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Australia Opposition Regains Election Lead as Economy Slows

Australia’s opposition has regained the lead over Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government, with 52 percent of respondents in an opinion poll published today saying they’d support the coalition in a Sept. 7 election.

The ruling Labor party had a 48 percent share of the final two-party preferred vote in the poll of 1,400 people, conducted Aug. 6-8 by Nielsen and published in Fairfax Media Ltd. (FXJ) newspapers. It’s the first national poll to be conducted since Rudd kicked off a five-week election campaign Aug. 4.

The Liberal-National coalition led by Tony Abbott was preferred for its ability to steer the economy by 56 percent, to 36 percent for the government, up from a 52 percent to 41 percent lead in the previous survey. Rudd, who led Australia as it escaped recession after the 2008 financial crisis, has said since returning to the leadership in June that the nation faces challenges as China’s economy slows and the Reserve Bank of Australia lowers its growth outlook.

“It was always Abbott’s election to lose, and he’s not losing it. He’s not giving Rudd a chance to claw back a lead,” Andrew Hughes, a lecturer in marketing and politics at Australian National University in Canberra, said by phone. “He won’t win by much, but he doesn’t have to win by much.”

The opposition’s four-point lead compares to a 50-50 tie in the previous such Nielsen poll, conducted July 11-13. Rudd still leads Abbott as the preferred prime minister by a margin of 50-42, narrowed from a previous 55-41, according to the Nielsen telephone survey, which reports a maximum margin of error of 2.6 percent.

‘Underdogs’

“I said on the day that I called the election that we enter this election as the underdogs,” Rudd said at a press conference in the Tasmanian capital Hobart today. “That remains the case. I don’t gild the lily about any of that, so we remain the underdogs.”

The government’s deficit is still short of the 57-43 two-party result from Nielsen’s June 13-15 poll, the last taken before Rudd replaced Julia Gillard as prime minister after an internal vote of the governing Labor party. Abbott was preferred by 50 percent in that poll, compared to 41 percent who backed Gillard.

“The Rudd honeymoon has well and truly come to a shuddering halt,” Christopher Pyne, shadow education minister, said on Sky News today. “The Australian public is starting to remember all the reasons why they wanted him gone three years ago.”

Benign Inflation

In its quarterly monetary policy statement released in Sydney yesterday, the central bank said gross domestic product will rise 2.25 percent in the year to December, down from a forecast of 2.5 percent growth three months earlier. Governor Glenn Stevens and his board reduced Australia’s key interest rate to a record 2.5 percent this week amid benign inflation and a slowing in mining investment.

The two-party result matches the most recent Newspoll conducted for the Australian newspaper, which showed the coalition with a 52-48 lead among 1,141 voters July 19-21. Rudd led Abbott as preferred prime minister in that survey by a 50-34 margin.

A separate poll conducted by Galaxy Research for Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper showed the government trailing with a final vote of 44 percent in Rudd’s home state to 56 percent for the opposition. Former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie announced this week he would run for the seat of Forde as the government looks to pick up marginal electorates in the Liberal National-run state.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Fickling in Sydney at dfickling@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim McDonald at jmcdonald8@bloomberg.net

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