22 June 2016
by Mark Kenny

You've been told Labor can't win - but they can. The evidence was there all along

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten: You ain't see anything yet

Odds are you're among the roughly 54 per cent of Australians who expect Malcolm Turnbull to be returned as prime minister on July 2.

Fine, you're probably right.
But if it turns out to be Bill Shorten instead, many will be forced to admit that the signs of a public shift had been wilfully ignored.

Without much hard evidence, a consensus across the political class has it that Shorten's stellar rise from laggard to genuine contender has stalled some way short of the race's end. Plateaued.

It is certainly true that early gains for Labor in 2016 were big whereas recent progress, if any, has been incremental. But this is normal. Australian elections are frequently tight. Indeed, the closer the contestants get to polling day, and to 50-50 standing, the smaller the likely movements in public sentiment. The law of diminishing returns applies with "uncommitted" voters shrinking to an ever smaller fraction of the electorate.

Elections have been won and lost on these modest shifts. But you have to be close enough in the first place to benefit.

Shorten's recovery in 2016 has been remarkable after a post-Tony Abbott plunge in late 2015 had reversed his party's lead of 54-46 (in the August Fairfax-Ipsos poll) to be 56-44 down under Turnbull by November.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Since then of course, the gloss has come off Turnbull too, with his personal standing emerging as the big dynamic in this election season. The story of Turnbull's denouement is a large part of Labor's rise back to full competitiveness.

Remember, his advantage over Shorten as preferred PM had been a colossal 51 per cent in November. So lopsided was the contest that Labor began the search for an alternative, if only to stem losses in the looming electoral bloodbath.

Now that personal lead is negligible and the last two Fairfax-Ipsos polls have Labor ahead again 51-49. An Essential poll on Tuesday returned the same result. Bluntly, Labor would probably win on that ratio. Even before that, the respected polling analyst John Stirton put the average of major polls at 50-50.

Stirton notes further, on the state data, that Labor could pick up 16 seats, getting it to 73 - just three short of a majority and ensuring a hung Parliament.

The story of Turnbull's denouement is a large part of Labor's rise back to full competitiveness

Seat-by-seat, Turnbull may be ahead. But when Labor won the unwinnable in Queensland, some pointed back to polls asking why they'd been ignored. Good question.