JULIA GILLARD'S personal standing with voters is improving and Labor's support growing but the government would fast-forward to an election-winning lead if Kevin Rudd were at the helm now, according to the latest Herald/Nielsen poll.
The poll shows that while support for Labor continues to inch upwards under the Prime Minister, the Coalition would still win an election if it were held today.
The personal standing of the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has hit record lows and more than twice as many voters now prefer Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader. For the first time, Mr Turnbull has the support of a majority of Coalition voters.
Since the last poll three weeks ago, Labor's primary vote has continued its upward trend by lifting 2 percentage points to 34 per cent while the Coalition's has stayed steady at 45 per cent and the Greens' has fallen 1 point to 10 per cent.
This gives the Coalition a two-party preferred lead of 53 per cent to 47, a 3-point swing since the last federal election.
But this situation would be reversed, at least temporarily, if the former prime minister Mr Rudd were Labor leader.
The poll shows that in a hypothetical match-up between Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott, Labor's primary vote would jump 10 points to 44 per cent, the Coalition's would fall 4 points to 41 per cent and the Greens' would fall 2 points to 8 per cent. This would give Labor a two-party-preferred lead of 53 per cent to 47 per cent.
The Nielsen poll director, John Stirton, said a boost under Mr Rudd, whose popularity, the poll shows, is in decline, would not be surprising but it would be hard to tell how long it would last.
The poll of 1400 voters was taken from Thursday to Saturday nights after a week in which Ms Gillard took leave when her father died unexpectedly and Mr Abbott lay low over allegations that he physically intimidated a female student 35 years ago.
Since the last poll, Labor has unveiled several social policies, including a dental scheme and plans to overhaul school funding.
Mr Rudd created a stir on Wednesday night with a comprehensive TV interview that was widely perceived as an exercise in raising his profile, all while Ms Gillard was on bereavement leave.
The poll shows Mr Rudd's popularity over Ms Gillard is in decline, with Ms Gillard cutting his 30-point lead as preferred Labor leader to 18 points in the past three months. Mr Rudd has fallen from 62 per cent as preferred leader three months ago to 55 per cent today, while Ms Gillard has risen 5 points from 32 per cent to 37 per cent.
Mr Rudd's backers have not given up on one more shot at the leadership before Christmas but support for a change has fallen from 52 per cent to 48 per cent while that resisting change has risen from 45 per cent to 48 per cent.
Two-thirds of Labor voters back Ms Gillard. Her approval rating rose 3 points in three weeks to 42 per cent and her disapproval rating fell 4 points to 53 per cent - her best figures since May last year.
Mr Abbott's approval rating fell 3 points to 36 per cent and his disapproval rose 2 points to 59 per cent - his worst figures since he became leader in December 2009.
Ms Gillard leads Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister by 47 per cent to 44 per cent.
The Coalition governments in NSW and Queensland have announced harsh budget cuts in recent days and Labor's vote has risen sharply in those two states since the last poll.
Ms Gillard sought to capitalise on budget cuts by the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, with a rousing speech to that state's Labor Party yesterday.
Claiming the Queensland cuts were a harbinger of much bigger ones under Mr Abbott, Ms Gillard said Liberal cuts devastate ''families, damage businesses, hurt communities'' whereas Labor targeted waste and gave priority to working people. ''That's the difference between their values and ours,'' she said.
The Treasurer, Wayne Swan introduced Ms Gillard, saying she was ''magnificent in the face of adversity''. He said she had weathered attacks from ''the grubs and freak shows associated with the Liberal Party''.