Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor government narrowed the gap with the opposition six months ahead of a federal election, easing pressure on her after the party was defeated in a state vote.
Labor rose 3 percentage points to 48 percent on a two-party preferred basis, with Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition falling 3 points to 52 percent, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper today. The poll also showed Labor would win the election if Kevin Rudd, who was ousted by Gillard in 2010, replaced her.
Gillard, the nation’s first female leader, faces an uphill battle with her party having trailed in polls for almost two years and with unemployment rising in areas that have traditionally supported Labor. The state election loss at the weekend in Western Australia, party scandals and lower-than-forecast revenue from a mining tax have also hampered Gillard’s efforts to build momentum and sparked speculation the party may turn back to Rudd.
Gillard is “still on track to lose government,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra. “She needs to string together some good performances and get her party united behind her to have any chance of winning the election.”
If Rudd was Labor’s leader and Abbott led the Liberals, the poll showed Labor may gain a potential election-winning lead of 56 percent to 44 percent on a two-party preferred basis. The two-party preferred measure is designed to gauge which party is likely to win enough seats to form government at the Sept. 14 election.
The March 8-10 telephone survey of 1,143 people had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. On the question of who would make the better prime minister, Gillard rose 6 points to 42 percent against Abbott’s 38 percent, down 2 points. The previous poll was held Feb. 22-24.
“The Newspoll is going to go up and down,” Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today. “We’ve got to stay focused on the job.”
Asked about the chance of Rudd returning as prime minister, Bowen said that issue was resolved in his failed February 2012 leadership challenge. Gillard spent five days campaigning in marginal seats in Sydney’s west this month, a tactic that may have contributed to her bounce in the polls today.
In Western Australia, state Premier Colin Barnett’s Liberals are forecast to win 32 seats in the 59-member legislative assembly after an 8.8 percentage point voter swing in the party’s favor in the March 9 election, the ABC said, based on 79 percent of the votes being counted. Labor was forecast to win 20 seats after a 2.3 percentage point swing against it.
“There’s clearly fallout from the West Australian election where people are running to blame Julia Gillard,” Shadow Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in a Sky News interview today. “We know that Julia Gillard is in the seat and wants to stay. We know that Kevin Rudd wants her job.”