Five more sleeps to polling day. How might we determine who will emerge the final victor? Newspoll finally shows the government pulling ahead of Labor for the first time in the campaign, but only with the narrowest of leads: 51% to 49%. It is margin-of-error territory in a campaign characterised not only by junk polling, but all too often by worse reporting.
There has been a proliferation of cheap robo-polls or SMS efforts this election. Their samples have been suspect. Other aspects of the methodology may have been unsound too. Many of the polls have been commissioned by the GetUps of the world, various unions and other special interest groups. We have not seen the questions, but some anecdotal evidence suggests these may not merely have been loosely worded but loosely worded to such an extent as to give the respondent a gentle steer towards a preferred response, if not actually constitute formal “push polling”.
The fundamental details — questions asked, numbers polled, who they are and former loyalties — that allow observers to weigh the significance of too many of these poll have either gone unreported or simply not been provided to journalists. A metric other than polling is needed in this final week.
Bill Shorten’s general demeanour might do. The more confident he feels, the more he appears to behave like a normal person, not some political automaton attempting to blend in with genuine humanity. This too, however, has its draw backs. The recent spate of early morning runs for the cameras, no doubt intended to demonstrate a youthful vigour (please feel free to pronounce that last word with a John F Kennedy-style Boston Brahmin accent; vig-ah), have looked a little phoney.
No, the best metric of how the government is performing may be the number of words Scott Morrison says per minute. As Immigration Minister he was the strong, silent type. The details of Operation Sovereign Borders were “on-water matters”. He’d say his lines and that was that. As Treasurer, he has had some explaining to do – not least to angry conservatives who accuse him of ratting on Tony Abbott in order to better position himself for a tilt of his own at the top job.
At the start of the political year he was given to long a leash when talking tax and, in doing so, raised expectations of economic reform that, politically, could not be realised. Yet paradoxically during the campaign Morrison has felt the more he says the better. Not only the more he says, but the more emphatically he says it, without pausing for a break – let alone any interruption. How he does it while still drawing breath would puzzle even the most skilled singing teacher. It’s also remarkable at times that he hasn’t ended up sounding like one of those Goon Show characters who began at 33 rpm, hit 45 and ended up squeakily spinning at 78. Perhaps he’s realised that sounding like Pinky and Perky or one of the eponymous Chipmunks would lack gravitas.
But as recently as the this morning he has continued to erect massive verbal walls to rival those of Thrace – the words rattling out at an extraordinary pace – in response to virtually any question. Morrison’s ambitions could not recover from defeat. Only if the walls come down will we be able to safely say the Coalition is feeling anything less than embattled.