KEVIN Rudd lacks the support of his caucus colleagues but will enter Monday’s leadership ballot as the people’s favourite, with a poll showing he leads Julia Gillard as the preferred Labor leader.
Despite this, the nation is split on whether Labor should dump Ms Gillard, with 48per cent favouring a change of leader and 47per cent believing the government should stick with the incumbent.
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The Herald/Neilsen national poll of 1200 voters was conducted from Wednesday night to Thursday night as Labor indulged in an unprecedented bout of bloodletting before the ballot.
Yesterday Mr Rudd officially declared his candidacy, telling colleagues Ms Gillard had lost the trust of the people and if they wanted to win the next election, the ‘‘cold, hard, stark reality’’ was that they must change leaders.
‘‘It’s time for a reality check,’’ he said.
Ms Gillard said she could beat Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and what Labor needed in adverse circumstances was a leader with courage, discipline, purpose and method and a track record of policy delivery.
‘‘This is not an episode of Celebrity Big Brother, this is about who should be prime minister,’’ she said.
The poll shows that during the past two weeks, when leadership tensions exploded, public support for each candidate has remained relatively unchanged. It shows 58per cent prefer Mr Rudd as Labor leader and 34per cent prefer Ms Gillard. Mr Rudd is more popular among Labor voters than Ms Gillard, but nevertheless most Labor voters, 52per cent, feel the party should stick with Ms Gillard.
Mr Abbott said the nation needed an election to end the paralysis, but on that, too, the country was split. Of those polled, 50per cent supported an election ‘‘as soon as possible’’ but 48per cent were opposed.
Despite the infighting, Labor’s primary vote crept up to 34per cent, its highest since November 2010, and the Coalition is steady on 44per cent. The Coalition leads Labor on a two-party-preferred basis by 53per cent to 47per cent.
Ms Gillard has taken a hit personally, with her approval rating falling four points to 36per cent and her disapproval rating rising two points to 56per cent.
She remains virtually equal with Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister, rating 46per cent to his 47per cent.
Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd hit the phones yesterday to canvass colleagues. While the Gillard camp remains confident of victory on Monday, it expects some drift towards Mr Rudd over the weekend.
Mr Rudd said he would not challenge again for the leadership if he lost, but the Gillard forces are sceptical and feel only a crushing victory for Ms Gillard will help ensure this.
As the counting varied last night, Ms Gillard had about 68 to 69 votes out of the 103-member caucus and Mr Rudd about 29 to 31. Three to six were undecided.
In an attempt to woo votes from colleagues worried about the carbon tax, Mr Rudd pledged to soften its impact by proposing to move from a fixed price of $23 a tonne of carbon to a floating price, currently $11, before the scheduled date of 2015.
Mr Rudd hopes public pressure on MPs will swing the numbers in his favour. He appealed directly to the public anger caused by his ousting in June 2010. ‘‘I want to finish the job the Australian people elected me to do.’’