Kevin Rudd Tony Abbott

The restoration of Kevin Rudd has produced a four-point lift in Labor’s primary vote since last Wednesday, with Labor rising to 38% for the first time since February 2011, new polling from Essential Research shows. That result — in line with other polling today — sharply reduces the Coalition’s two-party preferred lead from 55-45% last week to 52-48%.

On Essential’s normal two-week rolling average, the Coalition leads 53-47%. The Coalition’s primary vote after the return of Rudd is 46%, with the Greens on 9%. While the sample size is smaller than normal for Essential (around 900), the number of “other/independent” has fallen dramatically, from 11% down to 7%.

February 2011 is when Julia Gillard announced she was embracing a carbon price; until then, Labor and the Coalition had been deadlocked; thereafter, Labor’s vote collapsed, along with Gillard’s standing with voters.

It’s also, incidentally, Rudd’s worst result as Prime Minister — Labor led 52-48% when he was ousted in June 2010.

The decision to dump Gillard was approved by 55% of voters, including 24% who strongly approved, and opposed by 31%. Some 77% of Labor voters approved, 40% of Liberal voters and 49% of Greens voters. But men were much more likely to approve: 63% of male voters supported Gillard’s removal, compared to only 46% of women; women disapproved 36% compared to 29% of men. A third of voters said it made them more likely to vote Labor and only 19% said it made them less likely. More than 60% of Labor voters said it made them more likely to vote Labor, and 14% of Liberal voters, but a third of Liberal voters said it made them less likely to vote Labor.

The 38% figure was always the goal for the Gillard camp: they felt if they got back to 38% they’d be competitive with Abbott and it would provide a springboard for an election campaign assault. Labor under Gillard got within touching distance, hitting 37% on a couple of occasions in the second half of 2012 when Gillard briefly began reeling Abbott back in, but it all went to pieces after the announcement of the election date at the start of the year.

The extent to which Labor collapsed after improving in the second half of 2012 is illustrated by a series of responses on which groups would be better off under Labor or the Coalition. In September last year, voters gave Labor a big lead for groups like pensioner, the unemployed, people on low incomes, people with disabilities, people who send their children to public schools and recently arrived immigrants.

Last week, Labor’s lead had shrunk virtually across the board: its preference as the best party for the unemployed fell from 27 points to 14 points; for low-income earners from 27 points to 21 points; for single parents from 23 to 15 points. Only for people with disabilities had it increased, from 20 to 21 points. The damage done to Labor’s “branding” as a party to be trusted to look after lower income earners is significant.

There’s also been a significant drop in support for keeping our troops in Afghanistan, with the level of voters wanting us to withdraw our troops increasing seven points to 69%, with virtually no difference across voting intention.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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