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Gillard Narrows Poll Gap for Labor Before Australia Election

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s ruling Labor government narrowed the gap against the opposition in an opinion poll, consolidating her leadership five months before an election.

Labor rose 3 percentage points to 45 percent on a two-party preferred basis, while Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition fell 3 points to 55 percent, according to a Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper today. Gillard’s satisfaction level rose 2 points to 28 percent.

Australia’s first female prime minister, in China for talks to boost trade and military ties, is seeking momentum for Labor after its credibility was damaged last month by the party’s third leadership battle in as many years. Gillard is attempting to focus voter attention on the nation’s economic strengths ahead of delivering the annual budget on May 14.

“With the leadership issue now resolved, Gillard may be able to get some clear space to talk about her message and policies,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra. “The budget looks like it’s her last real chance to win back disaffected voters put off by the turmoil in Labor.”

The poll showed personal satisfaction levels for the two leaders moving in opposite directions. While the rating for Gillard, who won a leadership ballot unopposed March 21 when predecessor Kevin Rudd refused to challenge, rose from an 18-month low, satisfaction with Abbott’s performance among voters fell 4 points to 35 percent.

Budget Deficit

Gillard’s government announced plans last week to curb tax concessions for wealthy Australians saving for their retirement amid government efforts to plug a budget deficit created by revenue shortfalls. That came after the government was forced to abandon a pledge to return the budget to surplus this fiscal year, damaging Gillard’s economic credibility even as the world’s 12th-largest economy enters its 21st year of economic expansion.

Labor is aiming to rebalance Australia’s two-speed economy, where mining regions in the north and west thrive on Chinese demand while manufacturers and retailers in the south and east struggle under the strength of the local currency. Gillard is in Beijing today where she will attend a lunch of government and business leaders.

The Newspoll survey of 1,115 people taken April 5-7 had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. On the primary vote, which tallies respondents’ first voting preference, Labor rose 2 points in the poll to 32 percent, against the coalition’s 48 percent.

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