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PM Tony Abbott's 'positive' poll shows he's a dead man walking

Tony Abbott's supporters will claim today's poll as proof that there is life in his prime ministership yet.

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Tony Abbott's poll relief

A new Fairfax-Ipsos poll might give Tony Abbott what he so desperately needs: time.

Only a superficial reading can support this conclusion. In truth, it shows that it is already dead.

The surface reading of the latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll is that the key trends are all moving in Abbott's favour. 

The Coalition's vote is up and Labor's is down. Tony Abbott's approval rating is up and Bill Shorten's is down. 

Therefore, the Abbott advocates will argue, the voters are giving Abbott another chance and so should the Liberal Party caucus.

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The reason, they'll say, is that Australians like a fighter, and Abbott has  proved to be a tough one.

But look a little further. Seventy-two per cent of voters say that Abbott does not have the confidence of his own party.

In other words, the people believe that Abbott lacks the basic qualification to remain leader.

"They have read the writing on the wall for Mr Abbott," says the Fairfax pollster, Ipsos' Jess Elgood.

This is consistent with the odds in the betting markets. Sportingbet says Abbott has a 75 per cent chance of being removed from the leadership before the next election.

"Our punters are convinced that it is only a matter of time before Mr Turnbull has the nation's top job," according to Sportingbet's Andrew Brown.

Elgood has a similar reading of her poll data: "It possibly indicates that the voters have already moved on from Mr Abbott.

"But they have not despaired of the Liberal Party," anticipating a change of leader.

This is the central point. After the Liberal Party spill motion, the people see Abbott as being on the way out.

Public support continues to build for the two leading candidates to replace him.

Asked to choose their preferred prime minister, 39 per cent nominated Turnbull, up by 4 percentage points in a month. Another 24 per cent chose Julie Bishop, also up by 4.

Abbott ranked third, 19 per cent, down by a point, with only half the support enjoyed by Turnbull.

Tellingly, Abbott's supporters of last recourse, avowed conservative voters, are also leaving him.

Among self-identifying Coalition voters, the share choosing Abbott as preferred PM fell 3 percentage points, from 41 per cent to 38.

And those preferring Turnbull rose by 6 points, from 24 per cent to 30. 

"Coalition voters have been sitting loyally with Abbott," observes Elgood, "but slowly they are drifting away."

As Australia's collective expectation moves to a Turnbull prime ministership, Bill Shorten becomes a less attractive alternative.

This explains the sharp fall in his popularity. Abbott made him popular by default; the prospect of Turnbull is making him less so.

The claim that Abbott might be able to recover also overlooks the big  historical finding of today's poll.

On 10 positive leader attributes, the poll finds Abbott's ratings are "all negative, all at historical lows," reports Elgood.

Worse yet, Abbott rates lower on eight of the 10 than all four of his immediate predecessors.

When he moved a censure motion against Julia Gillard in 2011, Abbott said: "We have a Prime Minister who is both incompetent and utterly untrustworthy."

Today's poll shows that Australia finds Abbott to be less competent and just as untrustworthy.

By his own criteria, Abbott is a worse prime minister than Gillard. "It's hard to see his way back on these numbers," concludes Elgood.

The evidence of the poll is that Abbott's is the prime ministership from the Weekend at Bernie's.

The people propping up his prime ministership may be proclaiming it alive and well, but today's poll results show that the electorate knows otherwise.

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