The "miracle result" of the 2019 federal election hangs like a shadow over this campaign. There are many legacies of Scott Morrison's victory. They affect both the main combatants, the Coalition and Labor, and also many analysts and observers. The interaction between the influence of 2019 on insiders and observers has a chicken and egg quality, with one reinforcing the other.
The insiders can't put 2019 out of their minds. The Coalition, especially Morrison, exudes the confidence of a past winner. Winning the previous bout is no guarantee that it will be repeated. But the previous winner retains something of their past glory. In the case of the Coalition, this is not the first time it has come from behind to win tight elections (John Howard did it several times). The Coalition also wins most federal elections anyway, generating a sort of "born to rule" mentality regardless of the situation.
Labor, including Anthony Albanese, has a different sort of 2019 hangover. It exhibits the fragility and nervous demeanour of a contestant whose expectations were built up last time, only to be dashed by defeat. Too many of the same players were involved last time to forget it, even though the leadership is new. Unlike the Coalition, Labor carries the burden of those whose successes are rare. That can't be forgotten or pushed to one side. This does generate a pessimism that means that victory will come as a surprise.
None of this should make a difference, but I suspect it does. Furthermore, it is being reinforced by the supporters of the two parties and by outside observers. I agreed recently with a friend who asked me the interesting question, "do we have commentator behaviour that is averse to being caught out the way they were in 2019?". Commentators rely on instinct, experience, and "reading" the campaign, but usually are also influenced by the public opinion polls. That led most to get it wrong in 2019. Consequently, they have become more cautious than usual.
In 2022, the polls have consistently given Labor a big lead. If the Coalition had such a lead, it is likely that it would have framed the conclusions in the public square much more. But 2019 has affected both the direct interpretation of the polls and the broader commentary which surrounds them. The polls have been treated this year with a combination of scepticism and professional caution. Only the result on polling day itself will show whether the pollsters and their interpreters have got it right.
The scepticism shows in a failure to trust what the polls seem to be saying: that Labor will win. There is disbelief in the air caused not only by the 2019 result, but also by the earlier Trump and Brexit victories, which the polls failed to predict. Professional caution is rightly exhibited by constant references to the 3 per cent margin of error and other fallibilities of all polling. "Margin of error" has been the constant refrain which is used to warn listeners and readers of taking margins like 53:47 and 54:46 too seriously. But if polls are not taken seriously as a useful guide to the election result, then the whole expensive polling business model is in doubt.
Like other commentators I am constantly asked who is going to win. To be honest I think that the most likely result is a Labor victory, with the Opposition winning about 78 seats. The next most likely result is a minority Labor government, based on about 74 Labor seats. But when questioned, it is much easier to say that it is "a tight contest" or "too close to call" or "too early to call".
That is the way much commentary is framing the contest right now. Commentators are focusing on both Coalition and Labor marginal seats equally, as if a swing either way was equally likely. State-by-state media treatment of the contest tends to list an equal number of vulnerable electorates on both sides. However the poll results would suggest that it is Coalition seats that are most likely to fall.
The Coalition must win seats to survive. It needs some victories to offset the loss of some seats that the polls strongly suggest are likely. That prediction may change over the next two weeks, but for the moment it is the most sensible comment to make. Even the "miracle" 2019 result shouldn't stop that being said.
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