SUPPORTERS of the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the people who most covet their jobs were all claiming vindication yesterday after two major national opinion polls that showed Labor closing the gap on the Coalition.
Both the Herald/Nielsen poll and Newspoll showed Labor clawing back ground against the Coalition, while Julia Gillard’s personal ratings were rising and Tony Abbott’s falling.
As Mr Abbott’s senior shadow ministers rushed to defend him as a good person being vilified, Liberals confided they were relieved that the gap had narrowed because hubris had begun to settle in and the party needed a wake-up call.
”It doesn’t hurt that he’s had a bit of a belt under the ears … We’re taking too much for granted,” a senior party source said of Mr Abbott.
The Herald poll showed that while the Coalition would still win if an election were held today, Mr Abbott’s personal standing was at a record low and twice as many voters preferred Malcolm Turnbull as leader. The Newspoll showed Labor has pulled even with the Coalition and the two-party preferred vote was 50-50.
The Deputy Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop, was Mr Abbott’s main defender yesterday. She said the polls were always going to tighten up and she attributed the plunge in Mr Abbott’s fortunes to the damaging allegations last week that he physically intimidated a female student at university 35 years ago, saying this was part of a broader strategy by Labor to demonise Mr Abbott.
Ms Bishop and the manager of opposition business, Christopher Pyne, argued Mr Abbott was misunderstood. Both pointed out how he had spent Saturday with his local fire brigade, helping with back burning, while on Sunday he helped a blind man run a full marathon.
The government was not getting carried away but several MPs and ministers said there was a softening of hostility towards the government, largely because the carbon tax had not proved to be the monster the opposition claimed it would be.
”This is a campaign that has hit a brick wall of reality,” the senior minister Anthony Albanese said.
While Labor was improving under Ms Gillard, the Herald poll showed the government’s primary vote would jump 10 percentage points to 44 per cent if Mr Rudd were leader.
Supporters of Ms Gillard said these numbers would evaporate quickly if there were a change of leader and they said the steady improvement should keep the Rudd camp at bay.
”It may not [keep him quiet] but it deflates his tyres,” one said.
But a Rudd supporter took a different view: ”We might win with her; we will win with him.”
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