Julia Gillard's next job is to win the numbers on a much tougher battlefield - the public opinion polls.
The three major polls, Nielsen, Newspoll and Galaxy, tell virtually the same story. Labor's vote has been gradually improving from rock bottom levels last July, but the government is still only attracting about 47 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. That's a thumping election loss.
Julia Gillard's own approval ratings remain dismal. According to Nielsen, 60 per cent of voters disapprove of her performance; according to Newspoll it's 64 per cent. (Both those numbers have jumped about 5 percentage points since Labor's brawling began.)
But the caucus has now rejected the popular candidate, Rudd, and taken a chance that their unpopular Prime Minister can still win.
According to most pollsters it is possible - if voters also hate the other major party leader on offer, or that party's policies. More than 60 per cent of voters disapproved of Paul Keating's performance in the lead-up to the election in March 1993 but he still won because John Hewson was trying to sell his Fightback! package.
Julia Gillard will have to make good her promise to better explain the government's achievements, but her greatest asset is the almost equal unpopularity of Tony Abbott.
''An unpopular leader can continue to improve their party's vote if their opposite number is equally, or more unpopular, because then that leadership factor cancels itself out,'' Nielsen's research director, John Stirton, said. ''Right now both sides are offering leaders the people don't really like.''
Or according to Martin O'Shannessy, of Newspoll; ''Personal unpopularity and winning elections are not necessarily incompatible, Paul Keating proved that in 1993 and John Howard proved it in 1998. It all comes down to the comparison.''
But Gillard faces enormous hurdles. An Essential poll, released yesterday, asked voters who they blamed for Labor's leadership problems. Thirty-nine per cent nominated Julia Gillard, 23 per cent said ''other people'' and only 18 per cent accepted that it was Kevin Rudd.
And Rebecca Huntley, director of the Ipsos Mackay report, which maps the ''mind and mood'' of the nation, believes minority government is also a powerful drag on Julia Gillard's efforts to take Labor to a competitive position.
''I think people would have forgiven her the way she came to power if she had won the election decisively, but I think it will be very difficult for her to shift perceptions while she is working in a minority government,'' Huntley said. ''People hate the minority government … and they are already fatigued with this government, sick of it, they talk as if Labor has been in power for eight or 10 years, not four,'' she said.
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