Wowsers! We have a clear new leader at the top of our media coverage charts, which likely reflects a switch in the top position at the September election. That’s right folks, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott — with his miraculous metamorphosis from Attack Dog Tony in 2010 to Uncle Tony in 2013 — has stayed on-message consistently enough to become the major focus of political media coverage as the nation sizes him up for the top job.

In recent weeks Abbott pulled neck-and-neck with Prime Minister Julia Gillard for the first time, and this week he has streaked ahead, nearly doubling her for coverage, despite the government handing down a budget and the PM’s headline-making tears in Parliament as she delivered the National Disability Insurance Scheme (now DisabilityCare).

And that’s the point. It seems likely that the NDIS is playing just as well for Abbott as Gillard, that the ALP may be a lame-duck government and that any policy it makes from now on, unless strongly opposed by Abbott, will be seen just as much his as hers. After all, coverage of this magnitude for an opposition leader is usually reserved for a challenge to their leadership or a very major scandal.

Our research shows that in the past two months support has increased for both Abbott and Gillard on microblog Twitter. A corresponding increase in total coverage volume reflects that there has been more federal political news, with more policy to discuss. But with voters bedding-in since Gillard announced the election, no (serious) Rudd distraction, and fewer personal attacks taking place, pundits must now accept the reality that many voters are viewing Abbott as the next PM.

Crikey Political Index: May 16-22

Sydney Labor MP Michelle Rowland debuts in our talkback chart, having been denied a parliamentary “pair” to leave Canberra to care for her sick child.

Talkback top five

Even K-Rudd, with his gay marriage media grab, couldn’t touch Abbott for social media coverage this week. Conversations referenced Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, being caught drink-driving.

Social media top five

Listed as the world’s highest-earning athlete for 2013, David Beckham’s retirement leaves him with gargantuan endorsements and unrivalled celebrity.

Comparisons on media mentions