The first Nielsen poll for the year suggests Labor’s morale recovery last week will be short-lived: according to GhostWhoVotes, it has the Coalition opening up a 54-46 lead on two-party preferred. Labor’s primary vote is 32 per cent (exactly where Newspoll had it), with the Coalition on 46 per cent (two points higher) and the Greens on 12 per cent (two points lower). Again in common with Newspoll, it finds a majority of respondents nonetheless supporting a flood levy, of which 52 per cent approve and 44 per cent disapprove. Tony Abbott’s ratings are little changed: approval down one point to 46 per cent, disapproval up one to 49 per cent. Julia Gillard is down two points on approval to 52 per cent and up four on disapproval to 43 per cent, and her lead as preferred prime minister has narrowed from 53-40 to 51-41. If Nielsen’s usual procedure was followed, the poll would have been conducted between Thursday and Saturday from a sample of 1400.

UPDATE: Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the New South Wales segment of the poll has Labor trailing on the primary vote 31 per cent to 48 per cent: this would be from a sample of about 450, with a margin of error of about 4.5 per cent. Nielsen pollster John Stirton suggests federal Labor might be suffering in NSW from the imminence of a train wreck state election, although the swings on these numbers are in line with the rest of the country. Coorey provides more evidence for the swing’s uniformity when he says Labor is doing poorly in the states that bedevilled it at the election: New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. The poll also finds opinion continuing to divide evenly over a price on carbon, which 46 per cent support and 44 per cent oppose. Sixty-five per cent say they approve of Julia Gillard’s handling of recent natural disasters, for all the good it has done her.

UPDATE 2: Crikey reports better news for Labor from Essential Research, with Labor gaining a point on two-party preferred to 50-50. Since Essential Research combines two separate weekly polling periods, this is a more significant move than it would be from another pollster. Labor’s primary vote is up two points to 40 per cent, its best result since late October, while the Coalition is down two to 44 per cent. On each measure this is Labor’s best showing since the poll published on November 1.

Furthermore, the poll offers evidence of Tony Abbott taking a solid personal hit following the events of last week: his disapproval is up nine points since a month ago to 46 per cent and his approval is down four to 38 per cent. Julia Gillard has also gone backwards, down two on approval to 48 per cent and up five on disapproval to 41 per cent. While this is her worst disapproval rating yet from Essential, the approval is her second best since July: last month seemed an anomalously good result for her, and “don’t know” has reached a new low of 11 per cent. Gillard has also slightly widened her lead as preferred prime minister from 47-32 48-31. Crikey also reports the opening of a substantial gender gap, which has long been assumed but not always strongly backed by the data: Gillard’s preferred prime minister lead is a thumping 52-26 among women, but only 45-36 among men. Gillard’s net approval is almost even among men but plus 15 among women, while Abbott while is minus 12 among women and only slightly negative among men.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox

By submitting this form you are agreeing to Crikey's Terms and Conditions.

More worringly for Labor, the poll finds a substantial shift against the National Broadband Network since opinion was last gauged in September. Support is down eight points to 48 per cent, with opposition up from 18 per cent to 31 per cent. There is also very strong support for a permanent disaster relief fund: 63 per cent against only 29 per cent opposed.

UPDATE 3: Full Essential Research report here.