The political execution of Kevin Rudd and his replacement by Julia Gillard has strengthened Labor’s primary vote, sending it ahead of the Coalition for the first time since April, 42-39%, according to new Essential Report polling.

The poll, most of which was taken after Gillard’s ascension last week and on the weekend, sees Labor stretch its 2PP lead over the Coalition to 54-46%.

However, as Essential uses a two-week rolling average, it also shows Rudd was already pulling back voters to Labor, particularly from the Greens, whose recent surge has now almost vanished. This appears to confirm other recent polls that showed Labor slowly but steadily regaining votes after Rudd’s post-ETS backflip nadir in May. Coupled with polls like last week’s final Rudd Morgan poll (53-47% to Labor), if the former prime minister had survived into this week we might now have been talking about his polling comeback.

Nevertheless, Rudd’s removal has been welcomed by Labor voters, with 68% approving of the action to install Gillard, a significant reversal on last week, when Essential showed a strong majority of Labor voters wanting to keep Rudd. Overall, 47% of voters support last week’s events, and 40% oppose. About a quarter (26%) of voters said Gillard made them more likely to vote Labor, 24% said less likely. A high proportion of Greens voters — 31% — said they would be more likely to vote Labor under Gillard than less likely — 22%.

That will be an interesting demographic to watch, given Gillard’s weekend performance seems to suggest a shift in a more conservative direction on asylum seekers.

Gillard also affirmed her preferred prime minister dominance of Abbott, suggested by Essential last week when she outperformed even Rudd when compared to Abbott. In her first outing as PM, she leads Abbott 49-29%.

However, Abbott’s absence from the political radar in recent weeks has benefited his net approval rating.  He has edged up 5% in voter approval and lost 11% in voter disapproval, giving him a small but nonetheless positive net approval rating for the first time since February. It may well be the case the less voters see of Abbott, the less they dislike him.

There also appears to be strong support for the government to make changes to its RSPT — but only minor ones: 35% of voters agreed with the idea of the government making only a small compromise on the tax; 26% wanted major changes, and 11% wanted it to proceed in its current form. And 14% wanted no RSPT of any kind.

Essential has also picked up a significant worsening of the national economic mood. After months of strong expectations the economy would continue to improve, last week far fewer voters — barely one-third — said they expected conditions to get better, and 31% said they expected them to worsen, up from 19% as recently as March. More voters now think they will be financially worse off in coming months than better, and there has even been a rise in the number of people concerned about losing their jobs, despite months of falling unemployment.

Peter Fray

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