As we dragged through the seemingly endless pre-campaign this year, two legendary beasts were much discussed. One was the Bounce, expected by the government in response to some good news story or other. The most important was the Budget Bounce which, had it materialised would have set the stage for a mid-year election. The other was the Narrowing, assumed to take place once voters realised that the Howard government was actually set to lose office and be replaced by Labor.
Neither of these happened. The Budget disappeared without trace into the background of whatever determines voter choices, and even after most people came to expect a Labor win, there was no significant narrowing in the lead. Looking at the averaged results, there might have been a shift of one or two percentage points.
But the opening of the real campaign revives both possibilities: a Narrowing as the phony war is replaced by a real one and a Bounce as the government runs a strong campaign, including lots of appealing goodies.
The announcement of the government’s biggest policy initiative on the first day of the campaign effectively rolls these two into one. Clearly, Howard and Costello are betting that the combined effect will produce an immediate shift in the polls, at least enough to bring them back into contention – I’d say 47-53 is the minimum needed. If they get it, they are in a competitive race. If they don’t, the effects on morale will be dire.
Of course, there’s a huge element of chance here. Sampling and non-sampling error could produce a set of rogue results either way. But no matter how much this is pointed out, the psychological impact of the first polls is going to be huge.