State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy may ultimately survive the most bruising week of his political career and lead the Coalition to the next election, but his hopes of winning it appear dim based on the results of a Fairfax-ReachTel poll taken at the weekend.
In four marginal seats on the Frankston line the Liberals must win to take back power – Bentleigh, Mordialloc, Carrum and Frankston – the poll suggests Labor has extended its narrow winning margin from 2014.
It will also make it more difficult for the opposition to deny the consequences of Guy’s terrible lapse of judgment in dining with alleged Mafia boss Tony Madafferi, even if Guy insists he did not know Madefferi would be at the dinner. Madafferi has never been charged with a crime and denies any wrongdoing.
The Friday night poll suggests there is significant disquiet in the community about Guy’s contact with an alleged Mafia figure, which raised questions about how organised crime might seek to buy political influence in Victoria, which has the weakest electoral donation disclosure regime in Australia.
The crime-fighting persona the Opposition Leader has cultivated over many months is tarnished now. Roughly one-third of voters polled said they were less likely to vote for Guy.
Granted, the proportion of voters polled who said the incident would have no influence on their vote was higher, but any loss of support is damaging, maybe even fatal, in seats where the Coalition must increase its 2014 vote.
The poll has vindicated the Coalition’s strategy of consistently hammering the Andrews government on crime; it shows barely anybody believes crime rates are improving under Labor.
But it also points to a high level of disengagement among voters with what politicians have to say; a huge chunk of those polled didn’t know if Guy had a tough-on-crime stance, even though the Coalition has put “zero tolerance” at the heart of a slew of recent policy announcements it has made.
The danger for Guy and his party is that while many voters won’t know where he stands on mandatory sentencing, they will know who he ate with at the Lobster Cave restaurant.
The poll isn’t all good news for Labor either.
Although it would smile at news of 10 and 12 per cent margins in Mordialloc and Bentleigh respectively, one could argue that its slender leads in Carrum and Frankston after such a car crash of a week for Guy exposes a shaky grip on the seats it holds further along the railway line.
These are seats where first-home buyers have migrated after being priced out of suburbs closer to the city, and where getting to work often means a grinding commute of an hour or more each way.
As much as the government will seek to make mileage out of Guy’s slip, the poll results show its hold on power rests more with its performance on issues of bread and butter, not lobster and Grange.
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