Polls look good for ALP, but Page is tight

By Alex Easton alex.easton@northernstar.com.au

LABOR'S Justine Elliot will romp home in Richmond at today's Federal election; but it would take a brave, almost reckless, bet to try and pick the likely winner in Page.

A series of opinion polls, including one published in The Northern Star last weekend, and election betting point to a strong Labor win over the Nationals' Dr Sue Page in the region's northern seat.

Those same polls hint at a Labor win in the contest between Labor's Janelle Saffin and the Nationals' Chris Gulaptis in Page, but suggest a result so tight that it could easily go either way.

Labor and the Nationals have both worked hard to cancel each other out, issuing near identical local commitments on big-ticket items such as the Pacific Highway, health and the Alstonville bypass; giving voters a tough job of choosing between them.

Like yesterday's Galaxy and Nielsen polls, which contradicted each other on voter intentions in the eve of the election, analysts trying to guess at the outcome on the North Coast face a mix of vague and sometimes conflicting information.

In a worst-case scenario for the Coalition, that information points to a historic win for the ALP, with Richmond becoming safe Labor territory, and with the party also picking up Page, Cowper immediately to the south, and McPherson on the southern Gold Coast.

McPherson, which was formed in 1949, has never been held by Labor, and Cowper has been held by the party for only one term since it was formed at Federation in 1901.

That outcome is predicted only by the election watch website www.federalelection.com.au, which suggests Labor margins of between six and 11 per cent after the election.

It relies on relatively small samples for its surveys. A study of all Australian seats by political website Possums Pollytics points to Labor holding Richmond with a margin of more than eight per cent, and picking up both Page and Cowper.

The study combines swings recorded in all Newspoll surveys and extrapolates them to individual seats.

However, the study bravely assumes national swings are reflected evenly through all electorates which they never are.

Online betting agencies SportingBet and Centrebet, which have been notoriously accurate in the past, have the Coalition holding both Cowper and McPherson by comfortable margins. The bookies also expect a big win in Richmond, where Ms Elliot has led the betting since the start of the campaign and where bets on Dr Page to win are paying $6 and $6.50, compared with $1.08 for Labor.

Critically, the bookies are also predicting a Labor win in Page, where bets on Ms Saffin are paying $1.53 and $1.41, compared with $2.70 and $2.35 for Mr Gulaptis. However, there has been a lot of movement in the odds in Page, which has an official Nationals margin of 5.5 per cent, and it is only within the last week the odds have moved to favour Ms Saffin.

Polls in The Star during the campaign have also pointed to a big lead for Labor in Richmond; but to a tight result in Page.

The Richmond poll showed Ms Elliot with half the two-party-preferred vote, with 16 per cent undecided. Shared equally between her and Dr Page, that would leave Ms Elliot holding the seat with an eight per cent margin.

The Page poll was less conclusive. It showed Ms Saffin narrowly ahead of Mr Gulaptis at 44 per cent to 41 per cent, and with 15 per cent still to make up their minds.

But perhaps the biggest indicator of how tight the result in Page will be is in the behaviour of the parties. Since just before the campaign was announced, Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile has visited Page five times, including a few visits that lasted the better part of a day.

Labor Leader Kevin Rudd chose the seat to spend Melbourne Cup day and to watch the race, ensuring his image at the Ballina RSL Club would be flashed around the nation that night and the following day.

By comparison, Mr Rudd skipped Richmond altogether, announcing funding for the Sextons Hill Pacific Highway upgrade from Lismore. Mr Vaile made three visits to Richmond, two of which were described by the Tweed Daily News as 'lightning visits'.

The other party to watch in the counting tonight and tomorrow is The Greens. The party has run an unusually vigorous campaign in Richmond, largely due to the efforts of its candidate there, Giovanni Ebono, and has had two visits from the party's NSW Senator Kerry Nettle.

However, despite that, The Star's polls point to a softening of the party's vote as supporters flock to the Labor banner.

It's a phenomenon the party has noticed across the country the high-profile Sen Nettle said she believed it could cost her seat and one it has been striving to reverse in the hope of at least holding on to its Senate spots and Lower House primary votes.

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