Saturday, August 21, 2010

State swing may save Labor vote

A SWING to Labor in Victoria could make it the state that saves Labor from defeat in today's election but an unpredictable hung Parliament remains as a strong possibility, the Age/Nielsen poll reveals.

A state breakdown of the five polls taken through the campaign show Victoria and Tasmania are the only states in which Labor is likely to gain ground today.

But the final poll, which had a larger sample and was taken in the final nights of the campaign, confirms earlier polling showing sizeable swings of around 3 per cent against Labor in the crucial states of NSW and Queensland, and 4 per cent in Western Australia.

If those swings were evenly distributed across each state which they never are, but it's not a bad guide the Coalition would gain 15 seats from Labor: seven in NSW, six in Queensland and two in WA.

The Northern Territory is not polled separately in our poll due to its small population, but the Darwin seat of Solomon (which Labor holds by 0.2 per cent) normally reflects any national swing.

But Victoria is heading the other way. Polling of 187o Victorian voters over the five weeks of the campaign found an average swing of 2 per cent, which strengthened over the campaign.

Assuming a uniform swing, that would see Labor take McEwen and La Trobe from the Coalition, although any other seats appear out of range.

On the other hand, the average of the polls shows the Greens vote soaring in Victoria from 8 per cent in 2007 to 15 per cent this time, while Labor's vote has fallen from 45 per cent to 42 per cent. On those figures, the Greens would take Melbourne from Labor.

A small sample averaged over the past two months also shows a 2 per cent swing to Labor in Tasmania, but it already holds all five seats there. In South Australia, there has been a 1 per cent swing to the Coalition over the campaign, but no Labor seats are within range.

Labor starts with a total of 88 seats in the 150-member House: the 83 it won in 2007, plus five net gains from the redistribution. If it loses a net 13 seats, it would lose its majority. If the Coalition gains a net 17 seats, it would gain a majority.

If you take an average of all five polls, we are probably heading for a hung Parliament, with the independents deciding who rules us. If you look at just the last three polls, Labor would get back with a reduced majority.

In the past, an average of all polls over the campaign has been a good guide to the outcome. But maybe not this time, when the Rudd leaks dominated the second and third weeks. Labor's vote was high at the start, low in the middle, and high at the end.

Were all five polls an equally good guide to the result? Or were the last two polls the ones that mattered? We will find out tonight.