It is very difficult to get a clear picture of what is likely to happen in the Victorian election on Saturday.
A poll in the Age taken approximately four weeks ago suggested Labor retained a large lead. The accompanying article in the Conversation by Adrian Beaumont suggested that “the polls continue to indicate a landslide victory for Labor.” Beaumont however did draw attention to an apparent drop in Labor’s primary vote.
Despite this evidence, a widespread belief that the election will be closer than this recent polling predicts appears to be taking hold.
There appears to be three sources of this growing uncertainty, the possibility of a wave of Teal independents and Greens, the prospect of other independents winning traditional Labor seats in the outer suburbs and an impression of growing dissatisfaction with the long-serving Premier, Dan Andrews.
Will the Teal candidates do as well as their federal counterparts? I think not. There are some of the same factors at play but at least one significant difference. There is evidence of disillusionment with the major parties, and integrity issues are re-enforcing this trend. In addition, there is the heightened interest in Independent candidates now that voters have seen that such candidates can have a realistic chance of winning. Success breeds success.
However, there is one significant driver of votes for the Teals which is missing this time. Scott Morrison! Many Liberal voters found the idea of re-electing him too much to stomach.
On balance, such Independent candidates have a chance of winning some previously Liberal held seats, but I don’t expect their numbers to be comparable with the federal election.
It will be difficult for the Labor Party to resist the pressure from the Greens in inner-city electorates. When such voters are confident of a Labor victory there is a tendency to focus on the type of Labor government rather than focusing on being sure Labor has a majority. This is similar to the challenge the Hawke Labor government faced in 1984. It is very difficult to combat.
Long-term governments tend to face such problems in their otherwise safe seats. This appears to be driving a growing interest in Independent candidates in seats like Melton.
It is possible that a number of seats will come under pressure from such independent candidates, although it is hard to see very many of them actually winning. However, one or two seats lost like this can be the difference between majority and minority government.
The basis of the emerging view that Dan Andrews is a drag on the Labor vote is difficult to pin down. Most of the leaked polling data which appears to suggest this is partisan polling and must be considered suspect. However, almost every long-term leader faces dissatisfaction, particularly after the challenges of COVID during this term. And it does seem clear that Andrews is a polarizing figure.
A recent attempt to tie the possible result to the Kennett loss to Steve Bracks seems a little far-fetched. Dan Andrews may be comparable to Jeff Kennett, although that is open to debate, but Matthew Guy is no Steve Bracks!
The most recent polling at the time of writing is in The Age of Tuesday. This shows the ALP ahead 53/47 and tied on first preference votes. This is certainly a comedown from the extraordinary lead the ALP had in their last poll and may show a real swing away from Labor, but not apparently to the Liberals.
This does raise the possibility of a minority labor government. It would take an unusual series of coincidences in inner-city, outer-suburban and regional seats to push Labor into minority with the lead they currently appear to have. After all, 53/47 is the same result as Anastacia Palaszczuk achieved in her comprehensive 2020 win in Queensland.
It seems some people want to promote controversy to sell newspapers.
Nevertheless, the tightening in the polls, the rise of various types of Independents and the threat from the Greens will make for an interesting result on Saturday.
The most likely result is the return of a majority Labor government, with a minority labor government as the second most likely. It is extremely difficult to see a path to victory for the Liberals.
However, it is all in the voters’ hands now.