Newspoll’s pre-election result for the Western Australian state election has come in well above expectations for the government, with the Liberals on 48% of the primary vote (up three on the start of the campaign) and the Nationals on 6% (steady) with Labor down three to 32% and the Greens steady at 8%. That translates to a thumping 59.5-40.5 lead for the Liberal-Nationals, and a swing of about 7.5%.

A regional breakdown tells us the numbers are 50% Liberal, 35% Labor and 8% Greens in Perth, which compares with a 2008 election result of 38.8% Liberal, 38.4% Labor and 13.2% Greens. In the rest of the state, the figures are 44% Liberal, 22% Nationals, 24% Labor and 7% Greens, comparing with 37.2%, 19.3%, 28.4% and 8.0%.

After a big slump in the previous poll, Colin Barnett is up four on approval to 51% and down six on disapproval to 36%, while Mark McGowan is down two to 49% and up three to 29%. After the lead was reduced to just four points in the previous poll, Barnett’s lead as preferred premier has blown out from 44-40 to 52-31.

The poll was conducted from Monday to Thursday from a bumper sample of 1744, with an unusually low margin of error of 2.4%. Full tables here, courtesy of GhostWhoVotes.

UPDATE: The West Australian reports Labor strategists conceding they will not win with Liberals quoted sounding correspondingly confident, although the prognostications offered don’t quite match the scale of the wipeout indicated by Newspoll. Senior Liberals are “confident the party would hold Morley and win Albany, Forrestfield and Balcatta from Labor”, and are also “optimistic” about Collie-Preston. Labor tracking polling is said to have variously had them on course for between 20 and 26 seats, with the final outcome looking at the low end of the range. The West’s Gareth Parker tips 23 seats for Labor; I think I’ll stick with my implied pick of 21 from Crikey today, even though it involves betting against a final Newspoll, which I don’t generally recommend.

Now for an introductory form guide ahead of tomorrow night’s action. The basic arithmetic is that Labor goes into the election with 26 seats and needs to win four; the Liberals go in with 24 and hope to win six to get a majority in their own right; and the Nationals go in with five and hoping to make further gains, both for its own sake and to retain the balance of power. Two independent seats look sure to bolster the Liberals’ total, and a third will most likely be won by the Nationals.

Firstly, Labor’s offensive plays. A net gain of four seats is required, of which the following look most likely/least unlikely:

Fremantle (Labor 12.0%): Adele Carles’s win for the Greens at an April 2009 by-election marked Labor’s first defeat in the seat since 1924. Then followed her affair with Treasurer Troy Buswell and subsequent resignation from the party, and the ongoing saga of her on-again off-again relationship with Buswell, the latest phase of which is his current defamation action against her. Carles is running again as an independent but has fairly open in acknowledging the futility of her endeavour. By far the likeliest result is that it will revert to old ways in delivering a clear win for the Labor candidates, UnionsWA secretary Simone McGurk, but I’ll be waiting on actual numbers before I entirely rule out the possibility of a Greens boilover.

Wanneroo (Liberal 1.0%): I personally would be surprised if this classic outer suburban swinging seat didn’t swing to the Liberals, but Labor appear to have kept it on their wish list as a potential thirtieth seat in the event should things unexpectedly improve for them.

Swan Hills (Liberal 3.5%): It is lucky for Liberal member Frank Alban that the redistribution has moved 80% of the outer urban centre of Ellenbrook to neighbouring West Swan, as the government has appeared determined to lose support there. Far from coming good on the progress it promised towards the proposed rail spur in its first term, the government instead knocked the project on the head early in the campaign. Then came this week’s revelation from Colin Barnett that the rapid bus transit project that had been floated as its replacement would also not proceed. Labor has ended its campaign making hay in the area thus. Labor has done well in selecting as its candidate Ian Radisich, whose sister Jaye Radisich held the seat from 2001 to 2008 and succumbed to cancer at the age of 35 in 2010, and who by all accounts is a highly presentable candidate in his own right. The rail line effect will be worth keeping an eye on, but the market view is that the mountain is too high for Labor to climb. See also West Swan further below.

Mount Lawley (Liberal 1.7%): Labor is more hopeful here than it might be otherwise it appeared to suffer a protest vote when it dumped sitting member Bob Kucera in 2008, and has re-enlisted him in the hopes of winning it back again. The seat is a complex mix of affluent left-leaning suburbs (Mount Lawley and Inglewood), affluent right-leaning suburbs (Coolbinia and Menora) and less affluent marginal suburbs (Dianella and Yokine), and is home to nearly a third of the state’s Jewish population.

Morley (Labor 0.8%): There are two reasons to expect this seat to buck the trend and move to the Labor column: redistribution has turned a Liberal margin of 0.9% into a notional Labor margin of 0.8%, and the Liberals were substantially assisted in 2008 by the preference recommendation of John D’Orazio, the Labor-turned-independent sitting member. However, there’s no guarantee that will prove enough to hold off against a general swing. Their candidate for the second election running is Reece Whitby, a former Channel Seven state political reporter who has done a lot of work locally since his unexpected defeat in 2008 to dispel the notion he’s a western suburbs blow-in.

Then there’s Labor’s metropolitan firing line, in pendulum order:

Forrestfield (Labor 0.2%): A swing of any substance is likely to take out this eastern suburbs seat, which Labor’s Andrew Waddell won by a margin of 98 votes in 2008. Both parties are going to the effort to extend their airport rail plans to terminate at a station within the electorate.

Balcatta (Labor 2.2%): Labor hasn’t lost this seat before, but their position has been weakened by substantial Liberal-leaning urban infill in Osborne Park and Stirling, and they now confront the retirement of a veteran sitting member in John Kobelke.

Joondalup (Labor 3.3%): The orthodox view that the elections were decided in the northern suburbs broke down with the 2008 result, one aspect of which was a gentle 0.8% swing against Labor in the tough marginal seat of Joondalup. There’s a strong chance the Liberals will make up for it after waging a more determined campaign this time around.

West Swan (Labor 4.1%): All the issues observed in relation to Ellenbrook in the Swan Hills entry apply in multiple degree here. So it might be thought surprising that the Liberals have been heavily targeting the electorate, and that Labor has responded in kind. It should be remembered that this is an electorate of two distinct halves, with a slight majority of its voters located around Ballajura, far from the concerns of Ellenbrook.

Gosnells (Labor 4.8%): The margin of 4.8% is fairly solid, but Labor member Chris Tallentire was nervous enough about his prospects to have run his own advertisements on 6PR earlier in the week.

Belmont (Labor 6.7%): In common with Balcatta, Belmont is a traditional Labor stronghold where proximity to the city is driving up rents and house prices, and where a long-standing Labor sitting member is retiring. In this case it’s former party leader Eric Ripper, who has represented the area since 1988.

Girrawheen (Labor 6.7%): Redistribution has slashed the Labor from 11.5% to 6.7% by adding the newer Liberal-leaning suburbs of Madeley and Darch to the more established Labor-voting core of Marangaroo and Girrawheen. Troublingly for Labor, the population of the former nearly doubled between the 2006 and 2011 censuses, while the latter remained static.

In the regions, all four of Labor’s seats are at risk – two most likely from the Nationals, and the other two from the Liberals.

Kimberley (Labor 6.8%): Every one of Labor’s four regional seats is at risk: the two in the state’s north from the Nationals, the two in the south from the Liberals. The Labor margin is 6.8%, but the retirement of sitting member Carol Martin has changed everything in a seat which in many ways resembles a regional Northern Territory electorate: the electorate is 40% indigenous, and only 9861 formal votes were cast at the 2008 election. The electorate also includes Broome, where the James Price Point controversy may be an unpredictable factor. Most rate Nationals candidate Michele Pucci, but the Liberals are also campaigning vigorously.

Pilbara (Labor 7.2%): In a seat engorged by the mining boom with money (incomes competitive with the western suburbs or better, according to the 2011 census) and men (62% of the population is the male), Pilbara joins Kimberley as a northern seat Labor is expected to lose due to the retirement of a sitting member and the insurgency of the Nationals. The latter is particularly important, as Brendon Grylls has taken it upon himself to further expand the party’s regional empire beyond its Wheatbelt heartland by contesting the seat himself. I’ve variously heard it said that internal polling has Grylls on 38%, 40% and 46%, any of which should allow him to win handsomely.

Albany (Labor 0.2%): Many have been reluctant to back against Peter Watson after his win against the odds in 2008, when he picked up a 2.5% swing to survive by 89 votes after redistribution made the seat notionally Liberal. However, Labor would have benefited in 2008 from local support for Alan Carpenter, who was locally born and raised.

Collie-Preston (Labor 3.8%): A difficult seat to read, with Collie being as safe as it gets for Labor and the remainder being conservative dairy and beef farming territory. It’s now also absorbing new Bunbury suburbia around Eaton. Labor’s Mick Murray has an impressive track record electorally, retaining his seat in 2008 after redistribution sent him head-to-head with a sitting Liberal who had served nearly half the redrawn seat.

Blue-on-green:

Kalgoorlie (Independent 3.6% versus Nationals): Labor lost the seat against the trend of the 2001 election, and it appears this marked a watershed moment in the party’s long-term decline here. Matt Birney, who had a troubled tenure as Liberal leader after the 2005 election, held the seat for two terms before pulling the plug on his political career in 2008. It was then won by Labor-turned-independent member John Bowler, who had a big presence in the Goldfields as member for the abolished neighbouring seat of Murchison-Eyre. Bowler became very close to the Nationals and has helpfully endorsed their candidate, upper house MP Wendy Duncan.

Warren-Blackwood (Nationals 10.2% versus Liberal): Nationals member Terry Redman pushed through genetically engineered crop trials as Agriculture Minister, and then had the misfortune of the redistribution adding the Greens hotbed of Margaret River to his electorate. The Liberals are hoping the weak presence of the Nationals in the latter area, together with favourable preferencing from Labor and the Greens, will help deliver them the seat.

Eyre (Liberal 3.4% versus Nationals): Labor’s decision to direct preferences to Liberal incumbent Graham Jacobs ahead of the Nationals candidate will blunt the latter’s challenge somewhat, but the Nationals are still making optimistic noises.

Moore (Nationals 3.1% versus Liberal): When the one-vote one-value redistribution merged Moore with much of Greenough at the 2008 election, a contest of sitting Nationals and Liberal members was won by the candidate of the former, Grant Woodhams, who is now retiring. Despite being an open contest this time, I haven’t heard any serious suggestion the Liberals are going to recover the seat.

Independents:

Churchlands (Independent 22.5% versus Labor): A conservative area served since 1991 by retiring independent Liz Constable, this is a lay-down misere for Liberal candidate Sean L’Estrange.

Alfred Cove (Independent 0.2% versus Liberal): Independent incumbent Janet Woollard has enjoyed three successive narrow victories in this naturally conservative seat. She came particularly close to defeat at the hands of the Liberals in 2008, and it universally anticipated that her time is up. She has grappled this term with her son Luke’s involvement in a 2008 boating accident that occurred while he was driving under the influence of alcohol, resulting in severe injury to a female passenger. Woollard complained in a letter to constituents of “a campaign to vilify our family and force us to pay additional money”.

Kwinana (Labor 16.4%): Local mayor Carol Adams came very close to winning the normally safe Labor seat in 2008, which would have blocked Roger Cook’s simultaneous entry to parliament and the deputy Labor leadership. Now she is trying again.

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