Newspoll puts Kevin Rudd as slim underdog as campaign begins
ASSESSING the first Newspoll of the 2013 federal election campaign is all in the eye of the beholder.
The reality is both sides can draw positives from the poll, published in The Australian, which showed the Coalition holding a 52-48% two-party-preferred lead over Labor. Under this scenario the Coalition would gain eight seats for a total of 83.
From a Labor perspective, it can take heart from the fact it is at least in a competitive position to start the campaign.
Given the poll was taken in the days immediately after the release of a mini-budget chock full of nasties, the result could have been much worse.
It also marks a dramatic turnaround in Labor's fortunes in the six weeks since Kevin Rudd deposed the deeply unpopular Julia Gillard as Labor leader.
While it would prefer to be closer, Labor would feel like it at least has a base from which to build momentum during the next five weeks.
But of course so will the Coalition.
There is a possibility Labor has already reached its high water mark in the polls and that the Rudd honeymoon is over.
Certainly some of the numbers in the Newspoll support this theory, with the Prime Minister experiencing a six-point jump in voter dissatisfaction to 47% and a four-point drop in his approval rating to 38%. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's number were steady.
The Coalition would also take heart from the fact that just twice in the past seven federal elections has the party trailing in the polls at the start of a campaign managed to claw back enough ground to win - 1993 and 2004.
And in both cases there were reasons for the turnaround.
In 1993 Paul Keating waged a successful scare campaign against the Coalition's proposal for a goods and services tax, while two words can explain the 2004 result - Mark Latham.
The obvious exception is the 1998 election, when the Coalition trailed in the first Newspoll of the campaign 51.5-48.5% and lost the 2PP vote on election day 51-49%, but by a quirk of the system still won enough seats to form government.
Of course there have also been instances where a party has had significant Newspoll leads eroded during the campaign, but not enough to lose the election.
Elections have a way of sharpening voters' focus, and usually a sharpening in the polls follows.
Looking at Monday's Newspoll objectively, there is little doubt Labor has quite a challenge ahead of it.
Labor knows to win the election it has to gain seats from the Coalition, which starts the campaign knowing it will almost certainly win the independent-held seats of Lyne, New England and Dobell.
Poll watching has become a sport in Australian politics in recent years.
Something tells me we ain't seen nothin' yet.
Newspoll results at the start of every campaign since 1993 and the election result:
Newspoll: Coalition 53.5% ALP 46.5%
Election: Coalition 48.6% ALP 51.4%
Newspoll: Coalition 54% ALP 46%
Election: 53.63% ALP 46.37%
Newspoll: Coalition 48.5% ALP 51.5%
Election: Coalition 49% ALP 51%
Newspoll: Coalition 56.5% ALP 43.5%
Election: Coalition 51 ALP 49%
Newspoll: Coalition 48% ALP 52%
Election: 52.8% ALP 47.2%
Newspoll: Coalition 44% ALP 56%
Election: 47.3 ALP 42.7%
Newspoll: Coalition 45% ALP 55%
Election: Coalition 49.9% ALP 50.1%