The Gillard government would still be defeated in a landslide election if one was to be held now. Photo: Andrew Meares
LABOR has picked up support over the past month and Julia Gillard has substantially cut back Tony Abbott's lead as preferred PM, but the government would still be defeated in a landslide at an election held now.
And as the economy heads into uncertain times because of instability abroad, the Age/Nielsen poll has found that only 15 per cent believe Julia Gillard would be best to manage another economic crisis.
The Coalition's two-party vote has fallen three points to 58 per cent; Labor's is up three to 42 per cent in the poll of 1400 people taken Thursday to Saturday.
Ms Gillard's approval has risen four points to 38 per cent, while her disapproval has fallen five to 57 per cent. Mr Abbott's approval is down four points to 43 per cent; his disapproval is 52 per cent, up four.
The Opposition Leader is still ahead as preferred prime minister but with a much reduced lead - 47 per cent (down four points) to Ms Gillard's 44 per cent (up four points).
Immediately before the poll, Mr Abbott was holidaying in France and Britain. The carbon price debate fell away and the government released reports on aged care and disability reform and, before that, concluded a deal with the states on health.
The ALP primary vote is up two points to 28 per cent; the Coalition's is down three to 48 per cent. The Greens have risen a point to 12 per cent. These movements suggest that Labor bottomed in July, when its primary vote was the lowest in 39 years of polling by Nielsen.
Pollster John Stirton said the key finding in this poll was that, unlike previous polls, the government's position was not getting worse. ''It's too early to say whether Labor's position is improving or stabilising,'' he said.
Victoria stands out as the one state where the government is ahead on the two-party vote - 52-48 per cent. It is also where Ms Gillard has a big lead as preferred PM - she is ahead by a hefty 51-40 per cent; in New South Wales she is ahead by 46-43 per cent.
By contrast, in Queensland, Labor trails on a two-party basis 35-65 per cent, and Ms Gillard is behind as preferred PM 36-55 per cent. In Western Australia, she is behind Mr Abbott 33-57 per cent.
Voters are disillusioned with the current leaders as economic managers. Almost three in 10 (29 per cent each) think former leaders Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull would be ''best to manage another economic crisis if one occurs''.
Mr Abbott was rated as best by 21 per cent, compared with 15 per cent for Ms Gillard. A total of 58 per cent prefer a leader other than the current leaders.
People remain strongly against the government's carbon price, with opposition to it steady on 56 per cent and support at 39 per cent.
Backing for the carbon price is highest among the Greens (79 per cent) and ALP voters (68 per cent); overwhelmingly, Coalition voters are opposed (82 per cent). More than a quarter of Labor voters are against the carbon price, and one in five Green voters. Regional voters are more likely to oppose the carbon price (62 per cent) than city voters (53 per cent).
The economy and carbon tax will be centre stage when Parliament resumes tomorrow. A rally will be held outside Parliament by carbon scheme opponents.
The opposition will home in on the government softening its language over its earlier iron-clad promise to return to surplus next financial year.
The government will attack the Coalition over a leaked internal document showing it is searching for $70 billion in cuts.
West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said yesterday Ms Gillard ''lacks both the legitimacy in that office and also lacks political authority''.
Mr Barnett said that against the background of what was happening overseas, Australia needed a steady hand but ''what we are seeing instead are radical and divisive policies''.