Labor’s big lead has fallen away in this week’s Essential Report, but the government still holds an election-winning two-party preferred lead.

Julia Gillard has also gone backwards in job approval and better PM indicators, but still holds a sound lead over Tony Abbott. The poll was taken late last week as Labor’s campaign was derailed by a Cabinet leak and speculation about who was destabilising Labor.

Labor’s primary vote has dropped a point to 40%, only slightly ahead of the Coalition, which has remained steady on 39%. The Greens, too, have remained steady on 13%, as yet undented by the impact of the campaign. That yields a 2PP outcome of 54-46.

On approval ratings, however, Gillard has gone backwards, with a three-point fall in approval and a five-point rise in disapproval, to 46-38% — her lowest net approval rating in her limited time as PM. Abbott has picked up three points in approval, although that’s offset by a small increase in disapproval, meaning he continues with a net disapproval rating — 38-48%.

Gillard’s lead as better PM has shrunk seven points from 25 last week to 48-30% this week. There’s still a very big gender gap on better PM: Gillard’s lead among men is 12 points; among women, 24 points — 50-26%. Men and women now equally disapprove of Tony Abbott — 48% — but he leads amongst men in approval ratings, 41-35%. Gillard has a much lower disapproval rating among women.

However, the Coalition will be buoyed by the positive reception of Abbott’s pledge to cap immigration at 170,000, with 64% of voters approving and only 22% rejecting the notion. Support is very strong amongst Liberal voters — 91% — but even Labor voters like it (52-32%). The Coalition has a big lead among voters in perceptions of who is best at handling immigration, 35-23% over Labor.

There is now a large variance between the published polls. Roy Morgan’s most recent poll, a phone survey last week at around the same time as Essential, was 53-47. Newspoll and Galaxy are at 50-50; Nielsen, which has been highly volatile, is at 48-52.