Labor stares into the abyss
In all probability, the results of today's Fairfax/Nielsen poll will be greeted with the usual spin from ministerial press advisers and Labor Party apparatchiks.
We can expect to hear that ministers pay no attention to opinion polls, and that the only poll that counts is seven months away, on September 14.
But any such responses will likely be made through gritted teeth, and with little or no eye contact. Because the fact is that parties and politicians do pay attention to polls. Close attention.
And it's a fair bet that the results published in today's Canberra Times will give every ALP member of Federal Parliament, with the possible exception of one, a glum start to the day indeed.
Some may even begin to consider September 14 less as a date at which they may, against the odds, keep government, and more as a date at which they will begin their new careers.
That is because today's poll results are bad for Labor on a level that even the most foolishly optimistic politician will find impossible to ignore.
If an election were to be held today, the ALP would lose in a landslide.
Labor's primary vote has dropped five points to just 30 per cent and the Coalition's has risen four points to 47 per cent, its highest since July last year, when the carbon tax came into effect.
On a two-party preferred basis, Labor is sitting at 45 per cent, compared to 55 per cent for the Coalition.
And the news gets worse for the ALP. For the first time in seven months, Tony Abbott is the preferred prime minister, removing perhaps the final shred of hope for those in the Labor Party who previously had found solace in Julia Gillard's personal lead.
Mr Abbott's support as prime minister has risen nine percentage points to 49 per cent, and Ms Gillard's has fallen five points to 45.
The deservedly positive sentiments Ms Gillard generated with her stinging parliamentary rebuke of Mr Abbott last October, in what has come to be known as ''the misogyny speech'', seem to have been lost against the backdrop of an abandoned surplus, the resignations of two senior ministers and a failed mining tax.
Throw in the bungling of what should have been a good news story in the nomination of Nova Peris, the lingering whiff of the Thomson saga, the politically risky tactic of announcing the September 14 election date and the continuing theatre of the Obeid-Macdonald show in NSW, and it is difficult to imagine a worse beginning to an election year.
The atmosphere within the ALP caucus these days must be positively funereal. Indeed, the only little Vegemite within the ALP who could have any reason to be smiling is Kevin Rudd.
The Nielsen poll puts Mr Rudd's approval rating as preferred leader at 61 per cent, compared with 35 per cent for Ms Gillard. In the September survey the figures stood at 55 per cent for Mr Rudd and 37 per cent for Ms Gillard.
Mr Rudd was busy on Sunday saying that the ALP leadership debate was beyond cold showers and ice baths, and that it should be put into cryogenic storage.
Only days after a less-than-veiled swipe at Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan over the structure of the mining tax, Mr Rudd was at pains to say that he was ''pretty happy'' where he was.
In a comment ringing with overtones of ''you've made your bed, now lie in it'', he said he was not a candidate for the leadership. And to a suggestion that some in the caucus wanted him to return, he said: ''Not interested, go away.''
The leadership question is clearly not going to go away, regardless of Mr Rudd's comments.
Today's poll results will only intensify speculation about whether the Prime Minister will survive until September 14.
Many in caucus will have difficulty reconciling Mr Rudd's words with his high-profile actions - his reappearance on Channel Seven's Sunrise program opposite shadow treasurer Joe Hockey being a case in point - but all will understand just how damaging another seven months of leadership uncertainty will be.
The Labor Party therefore needs to resolve the situation with Mr Rudd, and fast, either through abject begging or outright rejection. Of course, it could already be too late.
No one, not even someone with the confidence of a former prime minister, wants to be drafted as the next opposition leader.