If there is one source of comfort for anxious Coalition strategists, it is the notion that state political polls have tended to tighten dramatically in the last days of election campaigns.
As little as a month before the November 2010 state election, for example, the polls were suggesting a relatively comfortable win for the Brumby government. Indeed, it wasn’t until the final week of the campaign that the Coalition moved into the lead.
This time around the thinking (or perhaps vain hope) is that voters haven’t yet focused. When they do – so the theory goes – the situation will improve for the Coalition as voters come to recognise the ‘‘risks’’ of a Labor government.
While there is some truth to the theory, it would be a dangerous thing indeed to dismiss opinion polls four months from an election as irrelevant. Polls mean something, in so far as they provide a snapshot of voter sentiment.
Right now, the snapshot suggests people aren’t particularly impressed with the Coalition.
We can only speculate, but a list of reasons for the Coalition’s consistently poor performance in the polls might include: chaos and dysfunction in the Parliament; periodic outbursts from hard-right elements of the Liberal Party that are seen as out of step with mainstream values; damage to the Coalition brand in Victoria inflicted by the Abbott government; perceptions of inertia for the first two years of the government; perceptions the Coalition has been fixated on roads at the expense of public transport; and ongoing concerns about the health system.
The battle is far from over. As the latest Age/Nielsen poll shows, Denis Napthine remains a relatively popular Premier.
There is now hope from within the Coalition that the political momentum is finally turning to favour the government after rolling political crises. But with so many political problems still dogging the government, and Geoff Shaw due back in Parliament on September 2, whether this momentum can be maintained remains to be seen.