Saturday, August 14, 2010

Labor claws back but too close to call

LABOR is clawing its way back. But a state breakdown of the four Age/Nielsen polls suggests the Coalition still has a fighting chance of winning the 17 seats it needs to win government.

Look at where each state is heading, and the possibility of a hung Parliament might be a bit higher than the 5-1 odds online bookie Sportsbet was offering yesterday.

Today's poll shows Labor back roughly where it was at the start of the campaign. The online bookies agree. Last night the four of them Sportsbet, Sportingbet, Centrebet and Betfair had a winning bet on Labor paying between $1.32 and $1.40, while the Coalition has drifted to between $3 and $3.35.

But the big question is whether the Coalition's lead in the previous two polls was just a fleeting reaction by voters to the Rudd leaks or whether the Coalition's support is stronger than these figures suggest.

Nielsen is the only pollster that has called the result correctly at the past four Federal elections. But each poll samples only about 1400 voters, and the margin of error in such a survey is 2.7 per cent either way.

Past elections have shown that the average of polls taken over the campaign is a pretty good guide to the outcome especially at state level, where it is the only way to compile a sample of reliable size.

Their findings this time can be summarised very simply. Labor is gaining ground from the Coalition in Victoria but losing ground to the Greens. South Australia is showing no overall movement either way.

But in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, the Coalition is heading for significant gains. And the first two are the states that will decide this election.

In Victoria, the bookies see only two seats changing hands: Labor taking McEwen from the Liberals, and the Greens taking Melbourne from Labor. But with our poll finding a swing of up to 2 per cent to Labor in the state, the close one could be La Trobe, where Liberal MP Jason Wood last won by just 0.5 per cent.

It's a different story across the Murray. While Labor still has a narrow lead in NSW, the polls show a swing of up to 3 per cent to the Coalition since 2007 and seven Labor seats are within reach of that. This week Labor picked up some ground in Queensland, but even so, our surveys are pointing to a swing of 3 per cent or more with up to six Labor seats directly in line.

And in WA, our surveys suggest the Coalition still has a commanding lead, giving it a strong chance of picking up two seats that are notionally on the Labor side.

Throw in the Darwin seat of Solomon, which is always lineball, and the certainty of above-average swings in some seats, and this election is still open.


Average of last four Age/Nielsen polls

NSW Vic Qld WA* SA/NT* Aust

First preferences % % % % % %

Labor 39 42 35 33 41 39

Coalition 43 39 46 51 40 43

Greens 12 14 11 11 11 13

Others 7 4 8 4 7 6

Two-party preferred

Labor 51 56 47 44 53 51

Coalition 49 44 53 56 47 49

Swing to Coalition 3 -2 3 3 0 2