A new opinion poll for the upcoming Canning by-election, conducted by Essential Research, has the Coalition leading Labor 51% to 49% on a two-party preferred basis, suggesting the Coalition will be returned, but with a big swing against it (the Liberals currently hold the seat with a 12% margin).
According to Essential, first preference support for the Liberals is down 15 points from the federal election two years ago to 36%, whereas backing for the ALP is up five points to 31%. Meanwhile, 15% of voters remain undecided two weeks out from polling day, suggesting the result could still go either way.
According to my cousin, Peter van Onselen, the view from within the Coalition is that losing Canning would unequivocally end Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership, whereas if the Government holds the seat, there are a number of possible outcomes, depending on the size of the swing:
Anything less than 4 per cent will be a miracle for the government, immediately ending leadership speculation and probably ensuring unity between now and polling day…
A swing of between 4 per cent and 6 per cent would be a good result for Abbott, considering how the government is travelling. While it would change the government if it happened nationally, with time between now and the next election a contained swing could be a sign that in a campaign the government had a fighting chance. Detractors would still complain, but their voices would be diminished. Abbott would be safe as leader.
A swing of between 6 per cent and 8 per cent probably wouldn’t end Abbott’s leadership, certainly not immediately, and his supporters would spin the result as strong under the circumstances. But backbiting would be inevitable, with no guarantees it would go anywhere. Morale would be low… Labor would salivate at such a result.
An 8 per cent to 10 per cent swing against the government in all likelihood would end Abbott’s leadership, but it could be a drawn-out process…
A swing of more than 10 per cent, even if the Liberals held the seat, would guarantee Abbott’s demise.
With the above in mind, it is perhaps not surprising to read that Labor might be attempting to throw the Canning by-election in a bid to keep Abbott in power and the Coalition in a state of flux. From Sky News:
Sky News revealed Ms Bishop told colleagues that Labor is not pouring the resources the Liberals had expected into winning the seat.
Another government minister said Labor was ‘no where to be seen’ on the ground in terms of advertising and other campaign material…
Another cabinet minister told Sky News that Labor appeared to be ‘running dead’ in Canning because they believe a bad result for the Liberals would see Prime Minister Tony Abbott rolled by his colleagues.
The minister stressed that Labor did not want to see that happen.
The SMH has more:
Labor strategists concede the government’s unpopularity, and that of the Prime Minister in particular, provide the opposition’s best hopes for victory in 2016. Thus, they fear a shock byelection loss for the government would shatter the party room resolve and could see Mr Abbott replaced by the more centrist and popular Malcolm Turnbull…
Nevertheless, Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, is playing coy, stating that “it’s a priority to do well because I believe Australia needs a new direction”.
It’s a strange thing, Australian politics.