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Pollsters examine election campaign -

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Pollsters examine election campaign

Reporter: Tom Iggulden

KERRY O'BRIEN: So, halfway through the campaign, how do we call the race?

In our first election program we tapped the wisdom of two of Australia's most respected election
analysts.

Hugh Mackay is a veteran social researcher who talks continuously with focus groups reflecting the
views of mainstream Australia for his Ipsos-Mackay report.

Sol Lebovic is managing director of the authoritative Newspoll.

Both saw John Howard and the Coalition as front-runners then, with Mark Latham's Labor needing to
make every campaign milestone a winner.

So how do they score the contest now?

This summary compiled by Tom Iggulden.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Interest rates always go up under Labor Governments.

MARK LATHAM, OPPOSITION LEADER: This is a policy to ease the squeeze on middle Australia.

HUGH MACKAY, SOCIAL RESEARCHER: I think the hip-pocket debate has gone absolutely the Government's
way, partly because voters are so confused about the whole thing.

SOL LEBOVIC, MANAGING DIRECTOR, NEWSPOLL: Labor Party didn't get a big bang out of the tax policy
and I think it really didn't have much impact on voters and last weekend we still had the
Government and Labor neck and neck in terms of two party at 50/50.

HUGH MACKAY: Terrible way to talk about a bombing in which lives have been lost, but if we're just
going to be crassly political about it, it probably favours neither side.

But maybe a slight advantage to the Opposition in the sense that many Australians would now be
saying perhaps it is the Iraq involvement that's made us more of a terror target, though, of
course, the Prim Minister's rebuttal of that argument is also very persuasive.

SOL LEBOVIC: Both leaders appeared statesman-like, came out very strong against terrorism and that
kind of thing and we saw once again in the polling no movement from the week before.

So I think it would suggest that the Government really haven't got a plus out of the Jakarta
bombing.

JOHN HOWARD: I'm glad the worm doesn't have a vote!

HUGH MACKAY: Generally speaking, it seems to have been one of the most tedious affairs in recent
political history, which won't have advantaged or disadvantaged either side.

SOL LEBOVIC: I think that the only impact that probably comes out of the debate, it seems that Mark
Latham was quite upbeat after it, so in that sense if that sort of hangs around for a couple of
weeks, that that has a positive impact.

MARK LATHAM: The greatest improvement to schools policy we've seen in this country since the 1980s.

BRENDAN NELSON, EDUCATION MINISTER: This is a policy of punishment and persecution.

HUGH MACKAY: The only thing that has really put Labor ahead in people's minds is their schools
policy, which will have resonated with parents around the country who have their children in State
schools, but, of course, we have to remember, again, with the declining birth rate, the whole thing
about education and schools is less of a dominant, mainstream issue than it used to be.

SOL LEBOVIC: And I think if in the coming days and weeks Mark Latham can win that education debate
and win a health debate which I don't think they have so far, that may impact on the electorate.

I think they're the two sort of areas where Labor potentially can pick up.

HUGH MACKAY: In terms of the overall mood, which is what I pick up through my research, it doesn't
feel as if it's even close.

It feels to me as though the Government's position is strengthening.

SOL LEBOVIC: I don't think at this stage we can say that, you know, it's a lay-down misere for
either side.

It is very competitive.

My sense though is that Labor still have to win it.

I think the Government at the mid-point would go in as favourites, even though the polling is very
close.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And we'll look to another summary from Hugh Mackay and Sol Lebovic this time next
week.