“Considering the circumstances, I think Labor have done pretty well,” one randomly selected voter said. “They’ve done a good job – made some mistakes (some big ones) but they have learnt from them,” said another.
So far, the Coalition has been unable to capitalise on the slide against the government. Instead, these voters are “parking” their votes with independents, meaning both the major parties still have a chance to win them back before polling day.
Then there is the incumbency factor.
The poll found Victorian voters have simultaneously drifted back to both the Andrews and Morrison governments in recent months.
Among Victorians, support for the federal Coalition increased from 35 to 39 per cent over the past month, while support for the Anthony Albanese’s Labor dropped from 40 to 33 per cent.
More partisan readers may find such a trend unfathomable, but it reflects a well-established tendency of voters to stick with governments in times of crisis. Even O’Brien’s internal enemies acknowledge this.
While none of this bodes well for O’Brien’s election chances, it is a trend that has seen governments of both stripes overwhelmingly returned to office in Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia, and offers him an explanation.
The latest poll also shows that while support for the state government remains strong, Daniel Andrews himself remains a divisive figure in Victoria. This is also reflected in Labor’s internal party polling which suggests very high levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with Andrews. People love him and loathe him in equal measure.
Interestingly, the latest set of data did offer some fertile policy ground for the opposition to make inroads in coming months.
The survey found most Australians want state leaders, including Daniel Andrews, to stick to the national cabinet agreement to ease restrictions and open up when vaccination targets are met.
In Victoria 62 per cent backed that plan and only 24 per cent said Andrews should go his own way.
Given the rising COVID-19 caseload, Andrews has already shown some resistance to reopen once vaccination targets are met, suggesting case numbers need to be significantly suppressed at the same time.
During an online speech to the party’s faithful on Wednesday, O’Brien framed Andrews as “crab-walking away from agreed national cabinet targets”. The data shows this is a strategy which could work beyond grassroots membership.
Interestingly, that speech also gave some insight into O’Brien’s wider election pitch, revealing a shift to what he sees as the political middle. Defying his internal critics, the Opposition Leader acknowledged that to have any chance next November, the Coalition would need to chase the middle ground.
“At the election, we will be asking people who have voted Labor four elections out of the last five to vote Liberal Nationals,” he said.
“Remember that many of those former Liberal voters who voted Labor at the 2018 state election came back to our party just six months later at the 2019 federal election. These are the people who decide elections.”
He is right. And under his leadership, the Coalition hasn’t lost any support. So far, he has managed to keep the so-called base. He knows that any path to victory will be achieved by attracting voters from the centre, not by lurching further to the right.
Attempting to ignore the latest numbers and taking a head-in-the-sand approach is unlikely to improve his position among his colleagues or Victorians and will only ensure the Coalition’s primary vote remains stuck at 35 per cent
Annika Smethurst is state political editor.