LABOR'S two-party vote has risen for the fourth consecutive month and Julia Gillard's approval has leapt 5 points in an Age/Nielsen poll carrying bad news for Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd.
Ms Gillard has opened a 10-point margin over Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister she is up 3 points to 50 per cent, while he has fallen 4 points to 40 per cent. This is her biggest lead since February 2011.
The Coalition is still ahead of Labor on the two-party vote but has fallen a point in five weeks to 52 per cent the government is up 1 point to 48 per cent.
The two-party gap has closed dramatically since June from 16 points to 4 points. The Coalition would now win an election on a 2 per cent swing, compared with an 8 per cent swing in June.
Labor's primary vote is steady on 34 per cent, while the Coalition's has fallen 2 points to 43 per cent the Greens are up a point to 11 per cent in the poll of 1400 taken Thursday to Saturday.
The results will shore up Ms Gillard's leadership in the face of increasing activity by Mr Rudd and fresh debate about Ms Gillard's role in the 2010 coup against him that has been sparked by former MP Maxine McKew, whose new book, to be extracted in Fairfax papers this week, claims Ms Gillard was involved in the intrigue rather than being drafted at the last moment, as the PM has maintained. While the Gillard forces sought to discredit Ms McKew, Mr Rudd rejected a suggestion he had ghosted the book as verging on sexism but refused to be drawn on the leadership issue.
Disapproval of Ms Gillard is down 5 points to 48 per cent, giving her a net approval (approval minus disapproval) of minus 1. Her 47 per cent approval rating is her best since March 2011. Her improvement continues a four-month trend. In contrast, Mr Abbott's disapproval is up a point to 60 per cent, a new personal record high. His approval is up 1 point to 37 per cent. His net approval is steady at minus 23 per cent, equalling his personal record low.
Pollster John Stirton said Ms Gillard and the government appeared to have entered a post-carbon tax phase, with their numbers back where they were before the tax was announced.
The poll is likely to cause further soul searching within the Liberals about how to pitch their appeal now the edge has gone off the carbon tax issue.
Ms Gillard's improvement has also come after her controversial parliamentary speech accusing Mr Abbott of "misogyny", which received some criticism but also got praise for its strength and went viral on the internet. Labor's long-term attempt to portray Mr Abbott as sexist seems to be biting: 42 per cent agreed with this description, compared with 17 per cent who said that of Ms Gillard.
The Liberals received a boost at the weekend from a two-party swing of more than 6 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory election but Labor, previously also in a minority, looks certain to cling to power with the support of the Greens, who, however, have had their seats cut from four to two.
The Age poll shows both leaders have lost ground on most attributes since 2010, but the falls for Ms Gillard tended to be greater than for Mr Abbott.
Ms Gillard's biggest single fall was on "has the confidence of her party" she went from 63 per cent to 47 per cent. Both lost ground on trustworthiness: the PM went from 48 per cent to 39 per cent, and Mr Abbott from 46 per cent to 41 per cent.
Ms Gillard's highest scores were for being competent (63 per cent) and open to ideas (62 per cent). Her biggest single gain was on "has a firm grasp of foreign policy" she rose 17 points to 56 per cent. Mr Abbott's highest scores were "has the confidence of his party" (64 per cent) and competent (58 per cent).
As preferred PM, Ms Gillard has a 15-point lead among women and a 6-point margin among men.
With the election due within a year, people are more inclined to favour Labor going full term 57 per cent (up 9 points since February) want a full term, while 42 per cent (down 8 points) want an election as soon as possible. Seven in 10 Coalition voters want a quick poll, but only 13 per cent of Labor supporters.
Most voters (56 per cent) expect the Coalition to win the election 32 per cent predict a Labor win. More than eight in 10 Coalition supporters say the opposition will win, but only one-third of ALP voters.
Victoria is bad for the Coalition it trails Labor 46-54 per cent on the two-party vote. Queensland is Labor's worst state: the Coalition is ahead 59-41 per cent.
Mr Abbott, upstaged at a Sydney Chinese function when Mr Rudd made a late appearance and spoke Mandarin, said Labor was "at war with itself". "What the Labor Party has got to do is resolve its leadership tensions quickly," he told reporters. "A house divided cannot stand . . ."
Preferred Prime Minister 50% ?3
Preferred Prime Minister 40% ?4
*[based on 2010 election preferences]