Axing Prime Minister Julia Gillard in favor of her predecessor Kevin Rudd would boost the Labor party’s chances in elections due in three months, polls show, as a two-week window for lawmakers to switch leaders begins today.
Rudd’s return would lift Labor by 11 percentage points in the primary vote to 40 percent, compared with the Liberal-National coalition’s 42 percent, according to a Nielsen survey published in Fairfax newspapers today. It showed support for Labor under Gillard slid 3 points to 29 percent, versus the opposition’s 47 percent.
Rudd, toppled by Gillard in a backroom coup three years ago, revived speculation of a contest after starting campaign appearances for colleagues in marginal seats this month. Gillard needs an unprecedented recovery to win the Sept. 14 ballot against Tony Abbott’s coalition and Labor would save as many as 18 seats, including Treasurer Wayne Swan’s, if it switched to Rudd, according to a separate Galaxy survey published yesterday.
“It’s going to be a very dangerous period for Gillard,” said Zareh Ghazarian a lecturer in politics at Monash University in Melbourne. “The polls are more a reflection of what’s going on at the moment within the Labor party and the government than just Gillard.”
Today’s Nielsen survey showed Rudd would raise Labor to an even footing with the opposition on a two-party preferred basis that predicts the final distribution of votes. The Galaxy poll published in the Herald Sun newspaper yesterday also showed Rudd would give Labor 50 percent of the two-party preferred vote versus 45 percent under Gillard.
Consistently rated Labor’s most popular leader, Rudd failed in a challenge to unseat Gillard in February 2012 and has said he stands by a commitment not to seek the leadership again.
Swan, Treasurer under Rudd before he switched his support to Gillard in 2010, when he was also elevated to deputy prime minister, dismissed the constant flow of poor poll data.
“Opinion polls used to come every month, then they came every fortnight, then they came every week and now they come every day,” he said yesterday. “All of the commentary that comes with it, I don’t pay any attention to that.”
Parliament convenes today for the final two weeks before the scheduled election, a danger zone for the prime minister as her Labor colleagues will all be in Canberra, enabling a snap challenge.
Labor hasn’t led in polls for more than 18 months and was 16 percentage points behind the opposition on a two-party preferred basis in a Newspoll published June 4 in the Australian newspaper.
Gillard’s backers are reluctant to reinstall Rudd because they blame him for leaks during the 2010 election campaign that damaged the government and triggered a slide in opinion polls, resulting in the closest ballot in 70 years.
Today’s Nielsen poll indicated a revival of the gender debate last week by Gillard, the nation’s first female prime minister, had backfired. The June 11 speech in which she signaled that an Abbott-led government may wind back abortion rights and see women’s voices banished from frontline politics lost her male votes and failed to secure new female support.
“The speech was ill-conceived and unfortunate as it sought to divide the electorate rather than bring it together,” Ghazarian said. “It was just really, really poor judgment.”
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