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Labor troubles now entrenched

Julia Gillard is entering a politically dangerous last sitting week before the budget, with support for her government stuck in the basement.

A sharp drop in support for the ALP in February which sent shockwaves through the party is showing signs of becoming entrenched with less than six months to go to the federal election.

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No poll relief for Gillard

John Stirton analyses the latest Nielsen/Fairfax poll, whose numbers confirm Labor's continued strife and the prospects of a Coalition landslide.

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The latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll has confirmed Labor's share of the primary vote is languishing at a landslide-losing 31 per cent - up a statistically insignificant 1 point from February. This compares with support for the Coalition unchanged on 47 per cent.

The 1400-strong telephone survey, taken from Thursday to Saturday, also showed Ms Gillard's satisfaction rating continuing to drop and Tony Abbott's continuing to improve.

The two-party-preferred split now sits at 44 per cent for Labor to 56 per cent for the Coalition.

Drop in support showing signs of becoming entrenched: Julia Gillard.

Drop in support showing signs of becoming entrenched: Julia Gillard. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

That would leave the ALP electorally devastated if carried through to the September election.

With some Labor MPs and ministers favouring a late leadership change back to Kevin Rudd or a third candidate, the poll showed Mr Rudd was easily the most popular choice among voters for prime minister, out-pointing Ms Gillard by a ratio of two to one, with 62 per cent to Ms Gillard on 31 per cent.

However, low voter enthusiasm for three other Labor leadership possibilities - Bill Shorten, Greg Combet and Bob Carr - suggests the party would not improve its September chances with any of these installed at the helm.

Labor voters themselves are evenly divided between Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd, with the latter edging in front with 51 per cent support and Ms Gillard on 48 per cent.

However, that edge is much less than the 13 point advantage he enjoyed over Ms Gillard in February last year.

Labor voters were even more dismissive than general voters of an alternative such as Mr Shorten. He scored loyalty from just 19 per cent of Labor voters compared to Ms Gillard with 77 per cent backing.

On the separate index of approval ratings, 38 per cent approved of the way Ms Gillard was handling her job compared to 58 per cent who disapproved.

This put her net approval rating - approval minus disapproval - at negative 20 per cent, a deterioration of 4 points in a month. Mr Abbott's net approval rating was half as bad on negative 10 per cent (an improvement of 3 points), with 43 per cent approving of his performance and 53 disapproving.

The shifting approval ratings and the preferred prime minister findings confirm that neither leader is particularly popular with voters but that sentiment may be moving in the direction of the alternative prime minister, Mr Abbott.

Pollster John Stirton said the trend spelt serious trouble for Labor. ''Taking all the published polls together, there was a significant move against Labor at the end of January and early February, and most of the movement we've seen since then has been within the margin of error,'' he said.

''The general trend, however, is clearly that Labor would lose an election held now.''

Labor's 1-point improvement in the primary vote came from the Greens, who dropped 1 point to 10 per cent.

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