The numbers say Labor can’t win. The calendar says they still have an outside chance

One opinion poll isn’t enough to accurately foretell what will happen at the ballot box in October, writes Dennis Atkins

Jun 09, 2020, updated Jun 09, 2020
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk may be the only winner that emerges from the LNP's infighting over Deb Frecklington's leadership. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk may be the only winner that emerges from the LNP's infighting over Deb Frecklington's leadership. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

There’s no way the Palaszczuk Government can win the October 31 election with only 32 per cent of the primary vote.

In fact, Labor would be flat out getting close with the 35.2 per cent of the primary vote the party managed in 2017.

This makes the weekend YouGov poll in The Sunday Mail look like a harbinger of doom for a Premier who is dreaming of a third election win – a victory that would take her past Peter Beattie and Wayne Goss as a long-serving Labor leader.

The 32 per cent rating looks even worse against the LNP’s 38 per cent – a 4.3 per cent improvement on the vote achieved by the conservatives at the last election.

With One Nation on a healthy 12 per cent and Katter’s Australian Party and “others” accounting for 6 per cent, there is an easy path to victory for the LNP from 38, even without any leakage of Greens preferences (something that nudged three out of 10 votes at the Currumbin by-election in March).

Does this mean the election is all but over? Should we just sit back and wait for the LNP’s Deb Frecklington to emerge victorious in just over four-and-a-half months?

There are many reasons this would be unwise at the moment.

First, the election is more than four months away and, as we’ve seen in the first half of 2020, events are unpredictable and circumstances can turn on a pinhead.

One poll doesn’t tell us what will happen on October 31. It’s worth remembering most commentators were caught out relying on polls in the run-up to the federal election just over a year ago. Despite this, many think polls are indeed predictive and we can treat them as if the election is five days away rather than five months.

Labor does have a big job in the coming months to improve that 32 per cent by at least 4 points – and even 36 per cent might not be enough in an election where the ALP will be the underdog when it comes to attracting preferences.

However, there are three indicators that give Labor some hope, however slim that might be.

As noted in InQueensland yesterday by Sean Parnell, a stark finding in the YouGov poll was that a plurality of voters have more faith in Palaszczuk and Labor to manage the economic recovery out of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

The backing of 39 per cent of Queenslanders to handle what for most people is the most pressing issue might put Labor short of a majority but Palaszczuk is more than 10 per cent ahead of Frecklington and the LNP, with a further third of voters up for grabs on this front.

Labor has the opportunity to use the state’s strong position on handling the virus as leverage to gain economic benefits, especially in areas where a COVID-safe environment is a big advantage, such as agriculture and higher education.

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The support Queenslanders are willing to give Palaszczuk to handle the economic recovery is evident in another number in the YouGov poll that should give Labor a bit more encouragement.

The poll found a sharp upswing in the number of voters who thought Queensland was headed in the right direction – from just 31 per cent in February to 49 per cent this month.

Given the dire economic consequences of the pandemic, this is a remarkable turnaround even if it is pushed along because of the performance of state authorities on the health front.

Finally, Palaszczuk’s own standing has improved, according to this latest poll.

Those satisfied with her performance have jumped from 29 per cent in February to 49 per cent now and her rating as better premier has risen as well, from 34 per cent to 44 per cent. Frecklington’s rating on both questions has remained steady or within the margin of error.

These three key factors fit neatly into a campaign strategy based on a contest that is a choice between Palaszczuk and Frecklington as alternative premiers and not just a referendum on Labor’s performance over the past five-and-a-half years.

This is the ground Labor is seeking out at every turn. It presents the greatest opportunity for Palaszczuk and the greatest threat to the LNP’s chances of returning to the Treasury benches.

This all means the Palaszczuk Government would have to pull off one of the great comebacks from a dire position. Queensland Labor does have a track record of scoring victories against the odds – Anna Bligh’s 2009 win and the 2017 poll are examples of this.

Those who want to make predictions about this year’s Queensland election should cool their heels. A lot is going to happen before a contest with more moving parts than usual gets under way.

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