Who will win this election? The answer's simple. Look at the past. In 2007 John Howard was campaigning as a better economic manager than Kevin Rudd. Then the Reserve Bank raised rates in the middle of the campaign, pulling the magic carpet right from under his platform and consigning his election narrative to the trashcan. Scott Morrison can't win.
Don't like that story? Then just choose another 'incontrovertible' historical fact. No opposition leader as old as Anthony Albanese has ever been first installed as PM at an election. He can't win. Case closed.
Perhaps the really incredible fact is that despite years of dysfunctional government, Morrison is still in with a chance.
An experienced, thinking strategist offers a definitive verdict: "The people who will decide this election haven't yet made up their mind." He's so plausible I believe him at once. Then I speak to an equally certain Raphaella Crosby: "No, people made up their minds long ago. What we're watching at the moment is nothing more than a display of fireworks above the water. None of this affects the deep undertow of the tide."
She continues and identifies a real problem - not just with our reporting and analysis but the system itself.
"Everything, including the electoral pendulum, is based on a two-party system", Crosby points out. "That's no longer true."
This is the crucial point. A genuine choice would provide us with crystal-clear alternatives on issues like climate change, engaging with neighbouring countries; social equity in education; and that would address urgent problems such as housing. This time we don't have any of these policy areas in play. Instead we have a PM implausibly claiming to possess a clear compass pointing the way ahead while the opposition suggests the true path forward is actually just a little bit to the left, but not to worry because there will be no dramatic changes anyway, no matter how urgently these are needed.
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Albanese has become the pastiche man urging you to sit down and enjoy a nice, comfortable cup of Bonox - a thick brown paste added for flavouring, but possibly without a great deal of nutrition on its own.
The result has been a teal revolution and the prospect neither party may command a majority in the house. The threatened politicians warn this would lead to "dangerous instability". Brilliant, I say. If what we've had - six prime ministers in a decade and policy stasis in the face of the greatest environmental and pandemic threats we've ever faced - is meant to represent some sort of triumph of the democratic system, then God help us all. Any change would be better than that, but this doesn't mean we'll get it.
The type of democracy you end up with is, however, deeply embedded in the voting system used to arrive there. In Westminster democracies this results in the excellent (and omnipresent) electoral pendulum invented by Malcolm Mackerras as a way of understanding the results. His two brilliant insights are firstly, Australian democracy can essentially be portrayed as a choice between two parties and secondly, individual swings in particular electorates tend to cancel each other out. This allows us to make sense of what's happening across the country without becoming bogged down in detail.
Take the dramatic insurgency eating away at the Liberal vote in its heartland seats. Despite all the noise it's quite possible that, in the end, the only new independent might be Zoe Daniel in Melbourne's Goldstein (requiring a massive swing of 7.8 percent).
She announced her candidacy early with a clear pitch ("if not now, when?"), pivoted to give agency to her message ("the same isn't safe"), and has worked the electorate hard ("providing solutions"). In Sydney's Wentworth Allegra Spender, for example, lacks the same ability to harvest votes from Labor strongholds in Bondi or, perhaps, Jewish votes in the eastern suburbs.
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The Senate vote here in Canberra provides an example of just how important preferences will be in this election. The ACT is always held out as the classic case of a Liberal seat at risk and Zed Seselja's vote has declined every election. If the territory was voting to ostracise a politician, to exile them (as they did in Ancient Greece), then Seselja might indeed be at risk. As it is, however, David Pocock (the most prominent independent) needs not merely to grab votes from the centre. He also needs a swag of Liberal voters to desert Seselja (hence the suggestion Pocock is some sort of "closet Green" rather than a former national rugby champion - it's a message directed specifically at wavering conservatives); abandon Labor's Katy Gallagher; and ignore actual Green Tjanara Goreng Goreng and independent Kim Rubenstein.
Perhaps, but it's a big ask. Winning the seat requires one vote more than one-third of the electorate and while the latest poll suggests Seselja will only gain a quarter himself, preferences from Clive Palmer's UAP (6 per cent) and those who are unsure should easily push him over the line. Tight, perhaps, but no change in the end and this is an issue for all those independents.
So which seats will shift?
A second Morrison miracle appears implausible. Labor is so deliberately bland and inoffensive it cannot plausibly be portrayed as a bogeyman and after the fires and the floods it seems unlikely the electorate will wait for further signs of God's displeasure before shooing his meaningless blather away.
My tip is the government, well, Bridget Archer actually, will remarkably hold the government's most marginal electorate (0.5 per cent), Tasmania's Bass. But that's because she's not Morrison. On the other hand it should lose Sydney's Hughes (9.9 per cent) despite that disgrace Craig Kelly moving on. The anti-Chinese Peter Dutton should hold on in Queensland's Dickson (4.7 per cent) despite a brilliant opponent in Ali France but the Liberals could lose immigrant-rich Bennelong (John Howard's old seat, 7 per cent) now former tennis star John Alexander is retiring.
There will appropriately be a swing against Kristina Keneally in Fowler (14 per cent) but it couldn't be enough to defeat her. Could it?
A pox on both your houses.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
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