Both major parties have picked up a point at the expense of the smaller parties, according to new polling from Essential Research, leaving the two-party preferred locked at 50:50. The Greens have dropped below 10% for the first time since late June, with Labor and the Coalition on 40% and 45% respectively.

Both leaders have also improved their personal ratings in the weekly online survey. Julia Gillard has reversed a recent narrowing trend and now has a net eight-point approval rating, sitting at 45-37%. But Tony Abbott has done even better, finally reversing months of negative net approval figures to record a 43-37% approval figure, his first net positive figure since February. Gillard maintains a handy lead as preferred prime minister — 47-35%.

But there’s been a marked softening in attitudes toward another federal election. A fortnight ago, 70% of voters thought another election would be needed within 12 months; that figure has now fallen to 59%, and there has been an increase to 28% in the number who think it’s unlikely. And while two weeks ago a majority of voters thought there should be an election in 12 months — 52-33% — that’s now split evenly at 43%.

But in the wake of Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor deciding to back Labor, there’s now a much stronger party split on that issue, with 75% of Liberal voters calling for another election, compared to 65% a fortnight ago, whereas support for another election among Labor and Green voters has fallen dramatically, with more than 70% of Labor and Green voters not wanting another election.

Liberal voters are much more hostile to independents as well, with 40% of Liberal voters wanting fewer independents in parliament, compared to 21% who want more — a sentiment entirely reversed amongst Green voters, 65% of whom thought there should be more independents.

Essential also asked voters how they rated the media’s performance during the election and, in spite of extensive criticism and soul-searching over media coverage, voters don’t appear dissatisfied: 32% of voters rated it good or very good, 40% rated it average, and only 23% rated it poor or very poor.

Coalition voters were the happiest, with 37% rating the media’s performance well, and Greens the unhappiest, with 37% rating it poorly, including 24% who thought the media had performed “very poorly”. But perversely Coalition voters were most likely to think that coverage was biased against their party — 23% of voters thought media coverage was biased in favour of Labor, including 29% of Liberal voters, 17% thought it biased the other way, and 44% thought the media had provided fair coverage.