With a time bomb ticking on the Morrison government, precisely when it explodes has narrowed to two favourites and a roughie.

In all likelihood Australians will go to the polls on either May 11 or May 18.

But whether through mischief or merit, speculation of a March 2 election faintly flickers as federal politics cranks into gear for 2019.

There is some strategic attraction in the earlier date, which would require an Australia Day weekend announcement.

However that temptation is likely to be outweighed.

Josh Frydenberg was adamant this week he would deliver his first budget as treasurer when scheduled.

‘The prime minister has been very clear that I’ll be delivering a budget on April 2,’ he said.

‘And that the election will be held sometime after that.’

In a separate appearance he gave the grain of wiggle room necessary to allow a major change of heart as he avoided providing a timing guarantee.

‘That’s a decision for the PM and his alone.’

Labor has been keen to stoke uncertainty around the announced timetable.

The opposition latched on to speculation the PM could favour a March 2 poll after the government ended last year the way it started – a sex scandal resulting in the downfall of a Nationals MP.

That date would be welcomed by the NSW coalition government, which faces a knife-edge election of its own on March 23.

That way people could bash the Liberals and Nationals at a state level, flushing anger out of their system before refocusing on state issues three weeks later.

Federally, it would also neutralise having to revisit a parliament where plucky crossbench MPs and Labor will crave testing the government’s flimsy minority on issues like refugees and live sheep exports.

Returning to Canberra on February 12 shapes as messy at best and humiliating at worst for the government.

With 74 votes in the 150-seat House of Representatives, the Morrison government can ill-afford to give the impression it has lost control.

But avoiding another dose of parliamentary chaos hardly compares to the political milage available in delivering a federal budget, set to be the first in surplus for more than a decade.

Aside from bolstering the coalition’s economic management narrative, there’s the tantalising opportunity to provide sweeteners to dissolve some voter vengeance.

However it’s difficult to dream of a scenario where the electorate could be bribed into returning a bruised and battered Liberal-National government.

More likely, it’s a case of avoiding a Labor tsunami causing a painful wipe-out.

Recent experience proves playing your hand too early can be a slippery slope.

In 2013, Julia Gillard announced in January that Australians would go to the polls on September 14.

Thanks to her colleagues, she didn’t make it to election day.

Kevin Rudd’s rebirth as Labor’s furniture saver failed to stop Tony Abbott snatching the keys to The Lodge with a strong majority.

And Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to have a 55-day campaign in 2016 could hardly be considered a success.

Labor came within a whisker of a shock upset and the double dissolution installed a hostile Senate which hampered some of the government’s signature reforms.

Sticking to his original plan would be Scott Morrison’s best choice.

Expect him to use the weekend after the budget to fire the gun on a campaign between 33 and 40 days, depending on his preference for either May 11 or 18.

After all, the bookmakers’ quote of $1.10 for a May poll is only slightly shorter than the $1.14 offered to punters backing a Labor victory.