ANALYSIS

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The Rudd resurgence

Federal Labor has stormed back into contention as the 2013 election nears, but PM Kevin Rudd's sudden poll jump could prove fragile.

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Kevin Rudd's second honeymoon is a good one for Labor, but it's probably not quite good enough to win.

As Monday's poll confirms, Rudd's return has transformed the election from an Abbott avalanche to a close contest.

The central question in Australian politics today is: Is this as good as it gets for Rudd, or can he build support from here on?

Herald Nielson Poll, Two Party Preferred.

Neck and neck: The recent Fairfax Nielson poll shows the parties stand at 50:50.

Some of his key advisers think this is probably his peak and are telling him to call an election as soon as possible. Taking all the polls by all the polling firms in the 18 days since Rudd resumed the leadership, Monday's Fairfax-Nielsen poll is the 10th.

The first one found the parties stood at exactly 50:50, and so does this latest one. And everything in between is within the margin of error of the same outcome. Indeed, the average of all 10 polls is 50:50.

''There is no trend there,'' says the Fairfax pollster, Nielsen's John Stirton. It was an immediate realignment, and it's not budging.

The conventional wisdom is that when you get a honeymoon, take full advantage by going to the polls. Rudd could call an election now for next month.

And the conventional wisdom has a sound historical basis. ''After the initial boost'' that comes with the advent of a new leader, ''no-one has ever carried it higher by election day,'' with the possible exception of Tony Abbott, says Stirton. Leaders either manage to sustain their honeymoon levels of support or they lose some of it by election day.

The Liberals launched a new attack ad on the weekend - ''Rudd is all talk''. It signals the beginning of a concerted effort to make sure he is a captive of history.

But, so far, Rudd has been trying to staunch Labor's running wounds. Reforming Labor, abandoning the carbon tax, looking at the flow of boat people. He's not yet started to offer a new set of positives in Labor's areas of perceived strength. In other words, the first three weeks have been about protecting Labor's weaknesses and not advancing its strengths. Rudd needs time to do this. Especially if he is to defeat the perception that he is ''all talk'', he needs to be seen to be governing and achieving.

It would defy conventional wisdom and history, but this implies he will not rush to an election but take his time. He can go as late as the end of November.

But precedent is about to be broken. ''All opposition leaders who've won an election from opposition in the last 40 years have been popular,'' says Stirton, ''They've all had net positive approval ratings.''

Tony Abbott's is negative, and seriously so. It's minus 15.

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