Essential Report polls taken over the last two years show how Kevin Rudd’s approval ratings have declined since the almost unprecedented figures he achieved following his election through to early last year. Up until March last year approval hovered around the high 60% level into the low 70s. His net approval (that is, approve minus disapprove) was around the mid 40% level.

Throughout 2009 and early 2010 his approval went into steady decline but still remained in positive territory. At the end of March he recorded 53% approval and 36% disapproval. However, the most dramatic shift occurred in April and May when his approval first entered negative territory with 41% approve and 47% disapprove. The decline appeared to be accelerating.

Some of the reasons for this sudden decline can be found in how the personal perceptions of Rudd changed from 2009 to May this year. His attribute ratings showed significant falls in the percentage of people who considered him to be a capable leader (72% to 55%), good in a crisis (60%-44%) and trustworthy (51%-41%).

Meanwhile his ratings for ‘out of touch with ordinary people’ increased from 41% to 55%. It indicates a significant loss of confidence in his performance as prime minister.

Last week’s Essential Report showed only weak support for Rudd to lead the Labor Party to the next election — 40% thought the Labor party had a better chance of winning the election if they changed leader and 37% thought Rudd was the best person to lead Labor. Even among Labor voters only 66% supported Rudd as leader and 23% thought they should change.

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This poll also showed that Julia Gillard was a more than acceptable replacement — she was preferred over Tony Abbott by 50% to 32% and appeared to have stronger support than Rudd among women and non-Labor voters.

This suggests that Gillard has more potential for attracting the soft and swinging voters than Rudd. She had also significantly improved her position when tested head-to-head with Kevin Rudd — 36% preferred Rudd; 33% Gillard.

The combination of the continuing and rapid decline in support for Rudd and the perception that in Gillard the Labor party had a ready-made alternative with growing support appears to have provided the necessary ingredients for a change in leadership.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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