Voters have turned on the O'Farrell government and are threatening to throw it out of office after just one term in a dramatic resetting of the political contest in NSW.
Three years after Barry O'Farrell was swept to power after an historic rejection of the long-serving Labor government, the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll shows Labor is leading the Coalition 51 per cent to 49 per cent on a two-party preferred basis. The turnaround represents a 15 per cent swing since the March 2011 election and is the first time Labor has led the Coalition since 2008.
Labor's primary vote, which crashed to an historic low of 25.6 per cent in 2011, has recovered to 35 per cent - an improvement of 12 points since the last Nielsen poll in March 2013.
The Coalition's primary vote has fallen to 40 per cent from 51.2 per cent at the last election - down 12 points since last year's poll.
If the 15 per cent swing was applied uniformly across the state it would see the Coalition lose up to 25 seats - wiping out gains it made in western Sydney, the central coast and the Hunter three years ago.
The poll of 1000 voters was conducted between February 22-26, shortly after the Independent Commission Against Corruption announced an inquiry involving former resources minister Chris Hartcher and two other government MPs, Chris Spence and Darren Webber.
It also coincides with ructions between the Liberals and Nationals over the push by Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson to take over the seat of Goulburn from Community Services Minister Pru Goward.
Pollster John Stirton said while it was not possible to put a poll movement down to one thing, the major point of difference for the Coalition has been that the previous Labor government was tainted by corruption scandals.
''This is the first poll taken since Chris Hartcher resigned from cabinet in December and the announcement of the ICAC inquiry into those matters,'' he said. ''The Coalition has lost that point of difference because of the ICAC inquiry.''
Mr Stirton said 2010 to 2013 was an ''extraordinary period'' where only the ''absolute diehards'' were voting Labor.
''What this poll is saying is that period has now ended and we're back to a two-party system where the parties will have to compete to win the next election,'' he said.
''While the Coalition would still clearly be favourites to win, the idea that the 2015 election is a certainty for the Coalition is now gone.'' Election of a Coalition federal government ''may be a factor'' affecting the popularity of the O'Farrell government.
The poll has bad news for Mr O'Farrell, revealing an 8-point slide in his personal approval rating since the Nielsen poll in March last year. His approval rating has fallen from 54 per cent to 46 per cent while his disapproval rating is up 5 points to 40 per cent for a net approval rating of 6 per cent.
Opposition Leader John Robertson's approval rating has increased by 2 points to 34 per cent compared with last year's poll. His disapproval rating is down 7 points to 36 per cent, for a net approval rating of minus 2 per cent.
Mr O'Farrell leads Mr Robertson as preferred premier by 50 per cent to 30 per cent. This is a 12-point deterioration for Mr O'Farrell and an improvement of 5 points for Mr Robertson.
The Greens' primary vote is up by 2 percentage points, independents down 1 point and others steady.