It seems Nielsen’s sample of 1400 respondents from its first opinion poll of the year didn’t get the memo: the poll has the Coalition’s two-party preferred lead at 53-47, which although not brilliant for the government in absolute terms is its best result from Nielsen since March last year. The same applies for the primary vote, on which Labor is at 33 per cent, while the Coalition is on 45 per cent and the Greens are on 13 per cent. This looks particularly good for Labor if you compare it with the most recent result from the same pollster, as the media so likes to do. That poll, which was published on December 11, had Labor at 29 per cent, the Coalition at 49 per cent and the Greens at 11 per cent, with two-party preferred at 57-43. Labor’s relatively strong showing has been driven by a quirky looking result from the Victorian component of the poll, which has Labor leading 55-45 – essentially the same as the 2010 election result, and better for them than at any Nielsen poll since. The Victorian component accounts for 330 respondents and has a margin of error of 5.4 per cent; the results for the other states should emerge tomorrow. The margin of error for the poll as a whole, which as always with Nielsen was conducted from Thursday to Saturday, is 2.6 per cent.

Even better for Labor so far as tomorrow’s headlines are concerned is an eight-point improvement in Julia Gillard’s net personal rating and a six-point improvement as preferred prime minister. Gillard’s approval is up five on the previous poll to 40 per cent and her disapproval is down three to 55 per cent, and she has shot to a 48-46 lead over Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister after trailing 46-42 last time. These results are very similar to the November poll, and the shifts probably represent a correction on an aberrant result in December. That Gillard has gained six points on preferred prime minister without taking a chunk out of Abbott’s rating is curious, and calls attention to the much lower undecided rating Nielsen produces on this question (ranging from 6 per cent to 12 per cent since the election) compared with Newspoll (15 per cent to 25 per cent). Tony Abbott’s personal ratings meanwhile are essentially unchanged: approval steady on 41 per cent, and disapproval up one to 54 per cent (his equal worst results from Nielsen on both counts).

One fly in the ointment for Gillard is that Nielsen has, reasonably enough, put her head-to-head with Kevin Rudd as preferred Labor leader, with Rudd predictably holding a commanding 57 per cent to 35 per cent lead. However, even this is a much better result for Gillard than when the question was last asked at Labor’s polling nadir in October, when Rudd led 61 per cent to 30 per cent.

Numbers, it almost goes without saying, courtesy of GhostWhoVotes. UPDATE: Full tables, including state breakdowns and such, here.

UPDATE: Essential Research once again has the two-party vote at 54-46, as it has in every poll since December 12 (and not since September has it failed to produce a result of either 54-46 or 55-45). Labor however has dropped a point on the primary vote for the second week in a row, now at 33 per cent (their weakest result since October 24), with the Coalition steady on 47 per cent and the Greens up a point to 11 per cent. A question on the government’s industrial relations regime finds 24 per cent believing it favours workers, 25 per cent believing it favours employers and 34 per cent finding it balances the interests of both, which would be a very pleasing set of numbers from the government’s point of view. The poll also has 15 per cent of respondents saying Australian workers are “very productive” and 59 per cent “quite productive”. Also canvassed was trust in various public institutions, which has the Australian Defence Force on top. Curiously, the least trusted out of those included were “business and banking regulators”.