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Has Labor's comeback run its course?

Since mid-year the opinion polls have told a consistent story, federal Labor's comeback, but new poll numbers today show the Coalition steadying.

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AUSTRALIAN politics appears to have achieved a "new normal".

While it's too soon to be definitive, today's poll does suggest that the Gillard government's recovery of the past six months has run its course.

If so, the new normal is an Australia that has made its adjustment to the carbon tax.

On the cusp of being a popular leader ... Julia Gillard.

On the cusp of being a popular leader ... Julia Gillard. Photo: Andrew Meares

It's one where most Australians don't feel any worse off as a result of the dreaded carbon tax, yet still want it repealed.

It's one where Labor has improved its standing but still needs some sort of breakthrough to be able to win.

It's one where the Prime Minister is on the cusp of being a popular leader and is more strongly supported than the party she leads.

And where the Opposition Leader is deeply unpopular and heading a party that's much more popular than he is.

In sum, the political verities of the past year and a half have broken down and been replaced by ambiguities.

"The Coalition is still more likely to win, but the government isn't so far behind that it's impossible for it to win," summarised pollster Nielsen's John Stirton.

The carbon tax, which was political suicide, according to the conventional wisdom, could actually be survivable.

And Abbott's anti-carbon tax campaign, which the orthodoxy held to be infallible, has left him more damaged than his target.

What suggests that the trend of Labor recovery has exhausted itself?

First, the adjustment to the biggest single driver of Australian politics, the carbon tax, appears to have been a one-off, a so-called "step" adjustment.

As Stirton puts it: "There was a big shift pre- and post-carbon tax, but the post-carbon tax number have been pretty flat."

A majority of 54 per cent to 56 per cent has been saying for four months now that the tax has had no effect on them.

And a static 38 per cent say they are worse off over the same span. In those four months, the effects should have become evident - all households should have received a quarterly electricity bill.

Second, the recovery in Labor's primary vote from its appalling May low of 26 per cent appears to have ended.

Its primary vote has been unchanged at 34 per cent for three consecutive Nielsen polls now. And its two-party preferred share of the vote has not improved since June in the Nielsen poll.

The other major published poll, Newspoll, has, as Stirton puts it, "been bumpier than all the other polls, but coming to the same general trend".

In this new normal, it would be in the realm of normality for a government to come from behind to win at next year's election. Or not.

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