The 2019 election verdict: It’s Labor

bill shorten flowers

It’s Election Day 2019 and our final prediction is the same as it has been since August 2016: Labor will win this election, and it should win well.

There are many practical and technical factors that point towards a Labor victory and, if the Liberal–National Party somehow manages to stand on the victor’s podium on Saturday night, it will be one of the most astonishing and remarkable election wins in Australian political history.

As we’ve outlined elsewhere, the Government has been behind in all major opinion polls for 33 months – 176 consecutive polls – and since September 2016, it has never achieved a poll result higher than 49 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote. A federal government has never been consistently behind in the opinions polls for so long, and managed to achieve victory on election day.

Another factor affecting the LNPs chances at this election is the relatively even access to publicly-funded resources. The LNP currently hold 74 seats, and the Labor Party holds 69 seats. When a party holds a seat in Parliament, there are substantial advantages available to the incumbent – government printing allowances of $100,000 per year, access to paid staff and fully equipped electoral offices to run a re-election campaign – as well as the knowledge and understanding of the local issues affecting a community, especially if the incumbent has been the local MP for more than one term.

Listen to our 2019 Election Final Countdown podcast, presented by Eddy Jokovich and David Lewis.

When a government holds a majority of 10–15 seats, this situation provides a financial advantage where monies and resources can be redirected towards seats in need of sandbagging, or those marginal seats that can be picked up from the Opposition. The power of incumbency is the main reason why it’s so difficult to win government from Opposition.

However, the power of incumbency has been severely reduced for the LNP. A five-seat difference between the two major parties (LNP: 74 seats; Labor: 69 seats) does not provide a major financial advantage to the LNP and, in Tasmania, there is no advantage at all, as the LNP does not hold any seats in that state. Any resource or financial support for its candidates will need to be provided by Tasmanian LNP MPs, or from the three Liberal Senators in that state.

A position of weakness

In the final months of the 45th Parliament, the Liberal–National Government was in a minority position (74 seats of 150 in the House of Representatives), dependent on support from the crossbenches to avoid a defeat on the floor of Parliament. The LNP is also attempting to win an election from a position of weakness, similar to Kevin Rudd’s position in 2013 – and that election resulted in a loss of 17 seats for the ALP.

Following a distribution of seats in South Australia and Victoria by the Australian Electoral Commission, the LNP notionally holds 73 seats in an expanded 151-seat Parliament, while Labor holds 72 seats. This means the LNP needs to win four seats to govern in its own right (for a total of 77 seats, which provides the Speaker of the House, and 76 votes to pass legislation).

To achieve this result of a four-seat gain, the LNP will need to achieve a uniform national swing towards it of 0.9 per cent – or a two-party preferred vote of 51.3 per cent (its current level of polling is 48.3 per cent, a full 3 per cent short of the required figure). So, a swing towards the LNP, and a gain of four seats – it’s a proposition that is rarely part of the electoral equation, and has never been achieved in Australian politics.

Other pathways to victory for the LNP are to achieve a swing of 2 per cent in NSW, and a 0.9 swing in Queensland. While there is little evidence to suggest this might occur, even this factor would require the LNP holding all of its seats in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. So far, South Australia is the only state where the LNP is not expected to drop any seats.

Mathematically and statistically, victory is an election outcome that is almost impossible for the LNP to achieve. Numbers are one factor we can look at to assess possible election outcomes, but a lack of achievement is another consideration.

Aside from avoiding defeat on the floor of Parliament after they plunged into minority government last year, there is little the LNP has achieved since the last election in July 2016. Under Malcolm Turnbull, the LNP wasted the little amount of political capital it possessed on arguing a case for income tax cuts for higher-income earners, finally deciding to shelve the proposed legislation early in 2018, after it became obvious the Senate was not interested in passing it.

The policy cupboard is bare, and for most of this term, the LNP seemed to be more interested in pursuing ideological war games with their own MPs – on climate change, energy, religious freedoms, freedom of speech – rather than promoting policies of benefit to the electorate.

By the time he was rolled by his party, Turnbull was a political liability – he’d failed to pick up the seats the LNP was predicted to win in a series of by-elections in 2018, and after the shock of the near-loss in the 2016 election, deep ideological divisions became more evident.

When Scott Morrison became Prime Minister in August 2018, his main task was to somehow unite the party, and offer a realistic agenda to bring to the 2019 election. However, most of his time was spent pursuing the issues few people cared about – such as a religious freedom act – and avoiding the issues the public demanded, such as the creation of a national integrity commission.

There is little the LNP has achieved in government that would establish its worthiness for re-election. Morrison has been on his best behaviour during this campaign, but many of his desired agendas – religious freedom, further penalty rate cuts, reduction of funding to public schools and hospitals, inaction on climate change – have been entirely downplayed.

While Morrison has presently well personally during the campaign, it has been a presentation in a void of emptiness, replete with meaningless sloganeering: ‘have a go, to get a go’; ‘the promise of Australia’; ‘how good is that?’; and endless imagery of beer-drinking, trucks, tractors, horse racing and bingo halls. These are classic attention-seeking tactics lifted directly from the world of advertising: it quickly gains the attention of an audience but if there’s not much of interest once they get there, they’ll quickly move away.

Despite the almost six years of divisive government and low achievement, many news outlets are still providing endorsement for a return of the LNP. In a rare stance away from this, the Sydney Morning Herald has endorsed Bill Shorten and the ALP for only the eighth time in its 188-year history. Not so much on the ALP’s economic credentials, but a hope the election of Labor will provide a sense of stability in Canberra not seen since 2009.

This contrasts with its assessment of the Liberal Party as a divided party and a belief the deep ideological tensions that resulted in the removal of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister are still evident, and are likely to continue after this election, whether the LNP wins or loses.

Final polls

A suite of opinions polls has been released in this final week (Essential, Galaxy, Ipsos), more or less confirming what has been published during the campaign: an aggregated poll average of 51.3 per cent for the Labor Party, and 48.7 per cent for the Liberal–National Party.

The final Newspoll of this campaign, released on Friday night, shows a move away from the Liberal–National Party. Its final numbers are 51.5 per cent for the Labor Party, and 48.5 per cent for the LNP, slightly outside of the aggregated poll average.

Of course, the media has been attempting to convince the electorate the ‘election is on a knife-edge’ and ‘the contest is closing’, but this is a manufactured analysis, designed to keep an audience interested in the race, which for all intents and purposes, was decided some time ago.

Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke died on Thursday evening.

And in an unusual twist, the death of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke ended the campaign on Thursday evening: not many people were listening to the messages from the election campaign after this news arrived. It was time to remember a giant from the yesteryear of politics and contemplate the possibility we’d never see the likes of Hawke again, certainly not in this Parliament.

This election should validate the sentiment that has been with the electorate for some time: based on the performances over the past two terms, the LNP cannot be rewarded with another term. It needs to spend time in Opposition to sort out its political differences and return with a clearer agenda.

Labor will win the election; it’s just a question of how wide the final margin will be.

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