Kevin Rudd’s new leadership received a significant boost this morning when Newspoll put Labor on 55% of the two-party-preferred vote, a swing of 4% since the last poll and about 8% since the 2004 election.

Labor leads the Coalition by 46% to 39% on primary votes, and Rudd is within three points of John Howard in the preferred prime minister “beauty contest”. Rudd’s disapproval rating is an astonishingly low 10%, compared to the 58% last recorded by Kim Beazley.

Rudd professed himself unexcited at the news: “I’ve been leader of the Labor party for a week, for goodness’ sake.” He suggested “everyone should go and have a cold shower”.

It’s good advice. One poll on its own is never very persuasive.

Nonetheless, taken together with other results, it indicates that Labor is in a strong position; it may even be that last week’s ACNielsen figure of 56%-44%, which I (and others) had dismissed as a rogue sample, was not so far off the mark. (That in turn might suggest that the leadership change was unnecessary, but too late now.)

The Australian‘s coverage is certainly positive for Rudd, but how much of that is pushing him and how much is pushing its own polling is impossible to say. The paper’s use of its polling last month to attack Beazley was creative, to say the least, and Dennis Shanahan today is still telling us “it is considered essential for Labor to have at least 40 per cent of the primary vote to win” – ignoring the 1990 election, which it won with 39.4%.

Shanahan’s accompanying commentary, “Bounce higher than Latham’s”, is also worth a read. He compares Rudd’s success to that of previous novice leaders, and injects a (perhaps unconscious) note of realism with the comment that “it may not be an encouraging omen to match the poll results of Dr Hewson … and Mr Downer”. Opposition leaders can crash and burn.

Instead of trying to read so much into one poll, have a look at the consolidated poll results available at Ozpolitics. What matters is not the size of Rudd’s “bounce”, but the fact that it’s coming off a high base; one that’s been steadily climbing over the last year and a half.

That’s the best sign that Labor really might be in with a chance.

Peter Fray

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