But is is certainly now clear that the Coalition will lose this election. It will probably be a substantial loss, though a bloodbath or a close loss are still possible.
I would quantify the levels as:
* Close loss - Coalition 48% Labor 52%
Labor 76, Liberal 72, Independent 2
* Substantial Loss - Coalition 45% Labor 55%
Labor 92, Liberal 56, Independent 2
* Bloodbath - Coalition 43% Labor 57%
Labor 105, Liberal 43, Independent 2
The bloodbath levels might seem an amazingly strong figure for Labor but they are less than the current four poll average figures which stand at: Labor 58.25% Coalition 41.75%
The seat estimates come from Anthony Green's election calculator.
One of the reasons that I have been holding off to make a final decision is that since the nadir of March the Coalition have been making a comeback. Between March and June the Coalition Two Party Preferred (TPP) vote increased by about 1% per month. An extrapolation of that trend, once it got underway indicated a close election in late November or Early December. Happily for those of us who hate Howard, the trend stalled in July and August and has turned back towards Labor during the first half of September. Currently (in mid-September) the TPP levels have returned to the levels of May.
The TPP trends that I have described came from monthly aggregates of all of the four polls, AC Nielsen, Galaxy, Newspoll and Morgan. This seems to be the best way of getting a handle on what is happening as the individual polls can be quite varied. For instance, an extrapolation of the Galaxy results in April, May and June predicted a Coalition win. Since then the Galaxy polls have move in Labor's favour and predict a Coalition TPP of 44% in mid November. The Nielsen, Newspoll and Morgan all predict a 45% Coalition TPP in mid November.
Of cause TPP does not tell the full story of an election. It is possible to for a party to win an election (ie pick up a majority of seats) even when it receives a TPP of less than 50%. Howard managed this in 1998. Although the Coalition got less votes than Labor nationally, they got them in the right places. Labor stacked up big majorities in its own seats, while the Coalition won seats by smaller margins. A similar pattern would result in Labor needing more than 50% of the vote to win. Happily this time around the Coalition are not getting support in the right places. The strongest swings to Labor, according to the polls, are in Coalition seats, then in marginals and the smallest in Labor seats.
Rudd has been a much more effective campaigner that many of us expected. He has very cleverly turned issues around on the Government. One of the Coalition's apparent strengths has been the economy, with very rosy macro figures. Rudd though framed the issue differently, focusing on how well off people subjectively feel. He struck a cord with this approach and it took some time for the Government to realise that it had been wrong footed. Eventually Howard started talking about how people felt economically, but soon after the Reserve Bank raised interest rates which gave credence to Rudd's line.
Howard has attempted to use his tried and true methods of smear and wedge to no avail. The personal attacks clearly irritated people and Rudd and Labor's popularity increased with each attack. Rudd has successfully avoided Howard's wedges, particularly on the Haneef afair, even thought the Government's behaviour at that time was totally reprehensible.
Howard probably expected to get a poll bump from "playing the statesman at APEC" but Rudd successfully gatecrashed that and showed that he could effectively mix it with the big boys.
The outbreak of leadership discontent in the Liberal Party will not help the next few polls, and if they continue to be bad for the Government (as I expect will be the case) it is possible that more leadership issues will appear. The cartoon opposite comments on Howard's announcement that he will retire sometime during the next term (if he wins the election) and then hand over the Prime Ministership to Costello. Joe Hockey talked about Howard being a Bradman. He of cause forgot that Bradman made a "duck" in his last test innings.
Howard might be forced to call an election, though possibly a long one as a circuit breaker. He seems amazingly confident that he can out campaign Rudd, even though Rudd has beaten him hands down all year. The coalition will of cause promise bucket loads of money in the election. It will be interesting to see how Rudd handles that. He could promise his own river of money or he could make the point that a desperate PM is ramping up inflation to save his own skin.