The prime minister is enjoying a shift in momentum in the final fortnight of the campaign that has pushed Labor’s vote down and might deliver him minority government — or government in his own right.
There’s a lot of polling to come between now and Saturday night, but Scott Morrison’s decision to hold a six-week campaign might be key to his hanging on to power, albeit in minority government.
A lot needs to go right for Morrison to struggle to 75 seats — plus Katter, or 76 seats, and a lot of polling has to be wrong, but we’ve been here before in 2019.
What does he need? He needs several things to go his way:
- The teal independents fall short. The campaign to save Frydenberg in Kooyong succeeds — perhaps because of a high level of informal votes by Monique Ryan voters; Dave Sharma hangs on against Allegra Spender; a strong Labor candidate cruels Kylea Tink’s chances in North Sydney; the polling showing Tim Wilson being booted out of Goldstein proves wrong; Sophie Scamps in Mackellar proves popular with the affluent in that seat but not enough to dislodge Jason Falinski.
- The Nationals hold off independent challenges in seats like Groom.
- Expected Labor gains evaporate off the back of a falling Labor vote in the last fortnight of the campaign and the flow of Clive Palmer preferences to the Coalition. The tale of multiple polls out in the last 48 hours is Labor’s primary vote sliding, even if the Coalition’s vote isn’t picking up. Labor picks up Chisholm in Victoria, Boothby in South Australia, Braddon in Tasmania and Swan in Western Australia, but there’s no change in Queensland because a higher vote for UAP flows straight back to the LNP via preferences, putting LNP MPs and candidates in Longman, Leichhardt and Brisbane over the line.
- Predictions of a surging Greens vote in Queensland, too, cruel Labor: Terri Butler loses Griffith. Kristina Keneally also loses Fowler to independent Dai Le.
- There are surprise gains for the Liberals in NSW: Andrew Charlton loses to his rival, fellow out-of-seat challenger Maria Kovacic; the high-profile Andrew Constance wins in Gilmore (in fact, I wouldn’t tip that as a surprise — I’d wager he’ll win, if not comfortably).
That kind of scenario leaves the Coalition on 74 seats. If they jag another seat — Luke Gosling loses Solomon, say — then it’s game over: Bob Katter’s support will give Morrison a majority, and another miracle win.
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As the above list indicates, lots of things have to go right for Morrison. But he delivered a shock win in 2019 and he has hauled the Coalition back within striking distance in the last fortnight of the campaign, with his campaign launch powering up a final-week assault on Labor’s lead. Opting for a six-week campaign may be vindicated as the right strategy for a patient prime minister to build his case against Labor.
The more likely scenario at this point given current polls is Labor falling over the line, or reaching 74 or 75 and being in a position to claim minority government. But Labor people thought they’d fall over the line with Bill Shorten in 2019, and we know where that ended.
The reasons why Morrison has proven to be competitive will be examined endlessly if this scenario plays out. Much of it will have to do with the power of the political party News Corp, which operates in coalition with the Liberal Party and its campaign strategists, while its staffers masquerade as journalists. But the role of the actual media will also be scrutinised; the complaint that Labor made itself too big a target will be replaced with the complaint that Labor made itself too small a target; the more nuanced take might be that it failed to provide a defining reason for voters to identify with Labor.
But that’s all speculation at this point. Labor and independent supporters just need to know that the nightmare scenario for them is very plausible.