Another Tuesday, another Newspoll. A very nice Newspoll for Kevin Rudd and the ALP.

The two party preferred splits Labor’s way 55 to 45%. The opposition leader has a satisfaction rating of 56% – 10% higher than the Short Man. He’s even doing pretty well in preferred PM stakes – just two points behind John Howard on 39%.

Of course, as the Oz’s political correspondent Steve Lewis observes, we’ve been here before. Mark Latham’s satisfaction rating reached 66% in the first half of 2004.

Just as in 2004, it appears that voters want an alternative – and are considering the new choice they have on offer. It’s Kevin Rudd’s challenge to pique their interest. And there are also challenges for his party.

Mark Latham nowadays is regarded as madder than the Doc. That’s untrue – and unfair. Much of his social analysis – downward envy, for example – was perceptive and discerning. Labor’s ideological blinkers prevented the party from following his lead on policies that engaged with this new Australia, like tax reform. Instead, they offered drivel like Medicare Gold.

There are encouraging signs that things may be just a little different this time round. Lindsay Tanner, the man charged with overseeing Labor’s policy review, is refreshingly free of cant. And it’s been good to see Stephen Smith stick it to the semi-numerate, semi-literate, yet jargon-obsessed ideological deadbeats who dominate the education establishment.

And there are also signs that issues may be moving Labor’s way. Newspoll’s findings on Iraq, for example, are fascinating. Seventy per cent of voters say it will influence their vote.

This is the first war where Australia has never taken a casualty in the line of duty, yet 62% of Australians oppose the Government’s handling of the conflict. Fifty eight per cent of men, 67% of women, 64% of 18 to 34 year olds, 63% of 35 to 49 year olds and 50% of those aged 50 are against. Even 41% of Coalition supporters are unhappy with the way John Howard, Alexander Downer and Brendan Nelson have dealt with the conflict.

The case of David Hicks is moving from the latte belt to Fountain Gate, too. Forty seven per cent of voters say it is important – and only 27% have supported the Government’s handling of the matter.

The hip pocket nerve, no doubt, will start to twitch as election day nears – but it mightn’t make the hands that hold pencils in the polling booths move quite the same way as they have in the past.

Even despite the Labor leadership change, the rumours that the PM may depart – rumours that Crikey mentioned last year when we became the only outlet to correctly forecast his chief of staff’s retirement – haven’t gone away.

So watch the polling. It’s going to be an exciting election year.

Peter Fray

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