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Morrison’s gains show Labor cannot underestimate its opponent

Asked who is communicating well, 35 per cent name Morrison and his team but only 17 per cent name Albanese and Labor. Asked who is offering strong leadership, it is 38 to 19.

These personal attributes do not decide elections, but they influence them. And the pattern is the same across a range of factors. The Labor primary vote is down from 35 to 32 per cent, while the Coalition primary vote is up from 38 to 40 per cent.

All the Coalition gain came from male voters. The primary vote among women did not budge. Even so, Morrison has more support among women than many commentators assume. Asked to nominate their preferred prime minister, 42 per cent of women name Morrison and 20 per cent name Albanese.

There are important caveats on all these results. The survey asked questions of 1607 people from Tuesday to Saturday last week, so it reflected a point in time when Morrison was gradually toughening his language about moving on from lockdowns.

This could be an early indicator that Morrison’s new message will resonate with voters. It is too soon to be sure.

Some of the polling also overlapped with Morrison’s announcement last Thursday that people aged from 16 to 39 could start getting the Pfizer vaccine, even though that news took states and territories by surprise and did not come with any additional supply.

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The margin of error is 2.5 percentage points. While the results suggest the Coalition has a narrow lead over Labor in two-party terms, assuming preferences flow as they did at the last election, this is within the margin of error.

Another caveat is that voters may very well say they support independent candidates over the major parties, as 10 per cent said in this survey, but their choices could narrow when the election comes. The electorate remains volatile, with more than a quarter of people saying they are “uncommitted” with their votes.

The Labor primary vote is higher in other surveys, as much as 39 per cent, so some Labor loyalists do not accept the number could be as low as 32 per cent. That is their call, but it was 33.3 per cent at the last election.

Morrison has been found wanting at key points in the pandemic. He did not move fast enough to secure vaccines, immunise aged care residents and protect some of the most vulnerable. But coronavirus deaths in Australia are a fraction of those in other countries and voters rate Morrison well on managing the crisis.

The Albanese support team may like to think he is cruising to the finish line in fourth gear with plenty of fuel. This survey suggests he is in third gear, losing speed and will only win if he bolts a jet pack to the roof.

The message to Labor? Do not underestimate your opponent.

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