There’s been an impressive array of excuses trotted out for today’s Newspoll showing a big lift for Labor and a similar fall for the Coalition, coupled with bad number for Tony Abbott. Newspoll’s Martin O’Shanassey insisted Julia Gillard had pulled back some core Labor voters by attacking the Greens. Dennis Shanahan picked up that theme, when you could eventually track down his commentary, attributing the rise to Julia Gillard attacking the Coalition and the Greens, thereby ensuring at least one of The Australian’s pet themes got a run.

Since the prime minister’s attack on the Greens amounted to a couple of lines in a speech last week, one can only stand in awe of Gillard’s communication skills that one or two sentences could shift public opinion so much. Nonetheless, watch that line take hold in political coverage, however off-beam it might be.

Scott Morrison, on the other hand, said it was all down to Kevin Rudd and international tension. Who knew international affairs exercised such a strong sway over Australian voters?

It was Barnaby Joyce who spoke the most sense, declaring he didn’t think the poll was accurate.

He’s right. A six-point jump in Labor’s primary vote in a fortnight is crazy. Either this poll, or the previous poll purporting to show a big fall in Labor’s vote, is a dud. No reflection on Newspoll — it happens to all pollsters, but it’s simply too big a jump to be right.

Yesterday’s Essential poll has a small shift back to Labor, so plainly the spike in Coalition support prompted by the government’s carbon tax announcement has peaked. Essential is a weekly poll but has a rolling two-week average that tends to smooth its trend out, and there may be a bigger swing back to Labor next week.

Essential also routinely has the Greens’ vote much lower than Newspoll, which has been consistent in overstating Greens’ support before and after the election.

But even taken at face value, the Newspoll result still doesn’t do much for Labor. It is still facing a terribly low primary vote — 36%, according to Essential and Newspoll — and needs Greens preferences to be competitive. That’s the one consistent theme across all polls — that and the fact that voters don’t like Abbott. It’s also — pace Scott Morrison — well below where Labor was under Rudd. Ever since the Gillard honeymoon wore off — which it did very quickly — Labor has been mired in polls showing a poor primary vote.

The only positive for Labor is that, if this is the worst the reaction to the carbon price announcement gets, then it will have done well. It doesn’t particularly matter what the polls say so far out from an election, but it does matter if they’re saying the Prime Minister was seriously damaged by the perception she broke a promise about not introducing a carbon tax. Perhaps she’s gotten away with it.

But Labor still has very serious problems. You can’t keep winning elections with a vote in the mid-30s.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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