In the first Essential Research poll of the election campaign, the Coalition has retained its lead over Labor with a two-party preferred outcome of 51%-49%, steady since last week. However, both the Coalition and Labor are down a point on their primary vote, to 43% and 38% respectively, while the Greens have retained their boost from last week and remain on 9%. Others/independent have increased two points to 10%.

It is those minor parties voters who are most up for grabs over the coming five weeks. While 53% of voters say they have already decided for whom they will vote, that primarily applies to Coalition and Labor voters. Some 69% of Coalition voters say they’ve already made up their minds, compared with 55% of Labor voters. But only 36% of Greens voters, and 29% of “other” voters, say they’ve already made up their minds. In fact, 20% of Other voters say they won’t make up their minds until the day of the election.

Asked if they might change their minds, 59% of Coalition voters said they wouldn’t change their minds before the election, and another 25% said it was very unlikely they would change their minds. Meanwhile, 40% of Labor voters say they won’t change their minds and 35% say it’s very unlikely. But only 23% of Greens voters say they won’t change their votes, and 36% say it’s unlikely; 35% of Greens voters say they’re open to changing their votes between now and the election.

That’s all good news for the Coalition, with a firm base of support and less chance of Labor being able to swing voters away over the next few weeks — less chance, indeed, than the Coalition has of attracting Labor voters. Labor’s best chance of building its primary vote looks to be luring Greens voters, but this won’t do much to improve its overall position — not unless it can lock in voters considering voting outside the major parties and the Greens.

Nonetheless, it is clear that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has significantly lifted Labor’s stocks. He is also trusted more than his party on key issues: whereas Labor trails the Coalition by 15 points on who is trusted to best manage the economy, he only trails Opposition Leader Tony Abbott by three points. Whereas Labor trails the Coalition by seven points on political leadership, Rudd leads Abbott by five. On education, Labor leads by nine points, Rudd by 16. On asylum seekers, Labor trails by 11 (itself a massive improvement on Gillard-era Labor), whereas Rudd trails by five. On health, Labor leads by one, but Rudd leads by 10.

In fact, on asylum seekers, it is hard to tell Rudd and Abbott apart — not merely on policy, but on voter attitudes. Some 20% of voters think Rudd is too harsh on asylum seekers; 21% think the same of Abbott. Meanwhile 20% think Abbott is too soft, and 24% think Rudd is too soft. The remaining 40% think Rudd’s policy is “about right”, while 31% think the same of Abbott. However, interestingly, Greens voters judge Rudd much more harshly — 49% say Rudd is too harsh, compared with 42% who say Abbott is.