There’s more qualitative Newspoll research in The Australian this morning.

“John Howard has kicked ahead of Kevin Rudd on the key issues of economic management and national security,” Denis Shanahan reports, “but voters see the Opposition Leader as far more likeable, trustworthy, in touch, caring and less arrogant than the Prime Minister.”

According to Newspoll, the PM is seen as being far more arrogant than the opposition leader, and to have slightly less vision for the future. Kevin Rudd is also credited with being across the nation’s issues, by 79% of voters compared with 73% for John Howard.

So, will Australians vote with their heads or their hearts?

Crikey’s Morgan polling identifies soft Labor support – those electors who say they believe the country is heading in the right direction but, at the moment, still plan to vote Labor. Last week’s polling found these people made up 19.5% of voters.

According to the ANU’s 2004 Australian Electoral Survey, 9.6% of voters decided which way to cast their ballot in the first few weeks of the campaign, 14.2% a few days before election day and 8.6% on the day itself. All those figures should worry both the government and the would-be government – but might just give Labor an edge.

Kevin Rudd has pointed to the macro figures the government keeps waving around. “The statistical averages don’t reflect the day-to-day realities that so many families face,” he has said.

The PM doesn’t seem to get it. Elections often have nothing to do with “the truth”, but about how people feel. It’s ironic, given the way he’s used fears of terrorists, foreign others and interest rates to keep fearful battlers by his side at elections past. And his plays on feelings may have set up the circumstances that could defeat him.

Mark Latham’s term of “downward envy” should never be forgotten. John Howard gave permission for well-off middle class people to think of themselves at battlers. People who have mortgages that take up 30-50% of their gross pay probably simply shouldn’t have borrowed so much.

But they feel stressed and look to someone to provide relief – and the government simply can’t help in any direct material way. All it can try and do is telling and re-telling of the facts about the booming economy, but headline figures don’t do much. Doing a Harold Macmillan doesn’t go down well with voters paying off a highly mortgaged McMansion that has depreciated 15-20% in the last two years.

“It’s the economy, stupid,” is still true – but how people feel about their little bit of it. Voters make their decisions on micro-micro issues, not on the big numbers from Treasury or the ABS. They played into the PM’s hands last time. This time it might be different.

Kevin Rudd knows this, as demonstrated by his continued raising of mini-issues that highlight some of the hundreds of little irritating costs that get to people. Rudd has a reputation as a policy wonk, but he knows that big, bold policies will do little for him

Instead, Labor seems to understand that it is the small and symbolic issues that resonate more with voters.