Yesterday’s Nielsen poll is wildly out of whack.

There, I said it.

It’s not the fault of Nielsen, or of Fairfax — except to the extent that Fairfax won’t pony up for a fortnightly poll, yet further demonstration of why you can hate The Australian all you like but it least it takes national affairs seriously enough to want to influence them.

But the consensus of Newspoll, Essential Research and Morgan is the recent fall in Labor’s vote has halted and left it marginally ahead of the Coalition — 51-49, 52-48 maybe, but within easy reach of the opposition if it had a leader capable of offering the electorate something credible (there’s a former leader on the backbench who might fit the bill, but that’s mischief for another day).

In short, things are bad for Labor, but not disastrous, and perfectly salvageable for any half-competent government. Which, of course, begs the question whether this mob are even half competent, a question that might take considerable time to resolve.

The consensus is also that there is a substantial shift to the Greens, bigger than seen before in any of these polls. Big enough to suggest something serious is happening in the electorate, with anything up to 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 voters looking away from the major parties for their first preference.

There’s much reading of the entrails and consulting of the augurs over what the meaning of the shift to the Greens is and, perhaps more importantly, how the preferences of new Green voters might flow. Charles Richardson had a nice piece yesterday about this (although the simple answer, Charles, is that John Black has a chip on his shoulder of Atlasian proportions about his former party). I reckon — and perhaps I’m just indulging in Gallery groupthink that denies the possibility of a truly significant shift in the electorate’s mood — the new level of Green support is soft. Very soft, in fact, and more likely to to be won back by the major parties, and Labor in particular, than cemented in place by the Greens.

Why? The Greens have a long history of polling well between outings, but come election day don’t live up to expectations. They’re like a cricketer that sees it like a beachball in the nets, but gets to the crease and pokes and prods for a streaky dozen before getting dismissed. Mostly, I suspect, because they’re hopelessly outgunned advertising-wise during election campaigns, and because in the absence of a strong local environmental issue, most voters are thinking of the economy or jobs or health or how much they hate a major political leader or local candidate when they cast their vote.

Nevertheless, you can only beat the outfit you’re up against etcetc, and there’s no denying the Greens have a chance to step up to genuine third-party status. The fact that they have been constructive Senate negotiators with this Government — when it has bothered to negotiate with them — should also not be dismissed lightly as a key reason why voters might look more seriously at the Greens this time around.

As for Labor, while everyone inside and outside the government is blaming poor communication for much of its current predicament, no messaging, however brilliant, is going to cover the gaping hole where the CPRS used to be. It needs a new, convincing climate change policy, and not just one built on half-baked energy efficiency measures that at best simply fund businesses to save money for themselves and at worst repeat the ludicrously costly per-tonne emissions abatement measures achieved under the Howard government’s many “greenhouse challenge” programs.

This is a view shared by a number of government MPs. Particularly given it has not escaped notice that 2010 is on track to be the hottest recorded year yet. Climate change may yet feature strongly in the election, and not just as the reason why Lindsay Tanner might lose his seat to the Greens.