PM wobbly but Abbott not much steadier


Has Julia Gillard's comeback stalled and is Tony Abbott capable of raising his own standing from the basement?

These are the awkward questions for both sides of politics raised by the latest Fairfax/Nielsen poll.

The Prime Minister has consolidated the recovery in her own approval ratings, but Labor's primary vote has not budged for three months and remains stubbornly in losing territory, at 34 per cent.

While the Coalition continues to be in a winning position, the Liberal leader's standing has sunk to a new record low, with an approval rating (where disapproval is subtracted from approval) of minus 24 per cent.

Gillard was in this territory for five consecutive polls before engineering a steady recovery after the carbon tax's introduction in July - a recovery that accelerated after the speech that began with the words: ''I will not be lectured by this man.''

Her position remains fragile and will be determined by how she is seen to manage the multiple policy challenges in the months ahead, the biggest being finding the money to pay for big-spending priorities and still bring the budget back to surplus.

Abbott's predicament is more complicated. His ratings confirm a very serious popularity problem, especially with women, yet the Coalition's primary vote lead is emphatic.

While Gillard now has a 2 percentage-point edge as preferred prime minister with male voters, the gap is 16 percentage points when it comes to women voters.

Moreover, Abbott's approval rating is minus 16 among men and a staggering minus 32 among women.

The question for Coalition strategists to ponder is if Abbott's unpopularity is dragging down the primary vote. One way to find the answer is to look at his preferred prime minister rating (42 per cent) and the Coalition's primary vote (45 per cent). The three-point deficit suggests this should not be a cause for alarm - yet.

The dual challenge facing Abbott is to be more positive, on the one hand, and to be far more disciplined, on the other.

Indigenous affairs is one of his strong suits, yet he let himself down last week with his loose language comparing urban Aborigines with ''authentic'' representatives of indigenous culture.

The imperative for both the government and the opposition is to finish off the year on a high, so their troops go into the election year with confidence.

This should make for an absorbing contest next week when they face off in Parliament for the last time before the Christmas break.


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