Gillard Eclipsed by Abbott as Preferred Leader Ahead of Election

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been eclipsed by her opposition rival Tony Abbott as Australia’s preferred leader as the governing Labor party popularity slides ahead of elections due Sept. 14.

Support for Gillard as prime minister slumped 5 percentage points to 45 percent while Abbott’s rating jumped 9 points to 49, according to the Australian Financial Review/Nielsen poll published today. That’s the first time in almost seven months Abbott has led.

Since setting the election date, Gillard has been been confronted with a scandal involving a former Labor lawmaker, the resignation of two ministers, and speculation former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may make another challenge for the Labor leadership. The survey showed 61 percent of respondents prefer Rudd as Labor leader and 52 percent think the party should drop Gillard in his favor.

Rudd, who was ousted by Gillard in a party coup in 2010 and failed in a challenge for the leadership a year ago, rejected suggestions that he would make another bid. “It’s time to put this debate into cryogenic storage,” Rudd said in an interview with Sky News yesterday.

The government’s economic credibility was dented by the announcement Feb. 8 that its tax on iron ore and coal profits raised A$126 million ($130 million) in its first six months, less than 10 percent of the A$2 billion the Treasury forecast for the year to June 30.

Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition led Labor 56 percent to 44 percent on a two-party preferred basis, versus 52 to 48 in the opposition’s favor in the previous poll taken Dec. 13 to 15. The measure is designed to gauge which major party is likely to win the seats required to form government.

The latest poll of 1,400 voters was conducted Feb. 14 to 16 and published in the Australian Financial Review today. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

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