Australian voters have thrown Prime Minister Tony Abbott a lifeline just as his internal opponents look like they may dump him, with a Fairfax-Ipsos poll confirming a shift is under way.
The Abbott government has staged an unlikely recovery and, while still trailing, is now within striking distance of overhauling the Australian Labor Party (ALP) lead at 49-51, according to the poll.
It is the closest the Coalition has come to being competitive since October 2014 (49-51).
Also concerning for the PM is voters would still prefer to see former Liberal Leader Malcolm Turnbull returned to the top, rating him more highly in all 10 of the leadership attributes surveyed in the poll.
Mr Turnbull has a 20 point lead over Mr Abbott among all voters (39 to 19) and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is also ahead of Mr Abbott (26 to 19).
The national poll of 1406 voters shows the government is making up ground on the Labor Opposition, however Mr Abbott still trails as preferred Prime Minister against Labor Leader Bill Shorten.
Pollster Jessica Elgood said the mixed results reflects several apparently competing assessments by voters.
“While the Coalition share of the vote has marginally increased, the ratings for Abbott remain poor, and Turnbull receives very high ratings for his personal attributes,” she told Fairfax.
“Voters appear to already be factoring in Abbott’s potential departure. They don’t like him, prefer Turnbull and assume Abbott is not long in his job.”
Labor’s primary vote – the share of respondents who said they would mark a “1” next to an ALP candidate were an election held at the weekend – has dropped to 36 per cent, down four points in one month.
During the same period, the Coalition’s primary vote has rebounded four points to a much healthier 42 per cent from 38 per cent.
On Sunday Mr Abbott laughed off the latest round of leadership talk as “recycled rubbish”, saying the matter was settled by the party room three weeks ago.
But talk of a second spill motion this week persists, after reports a majority of Liberal MPs and senators now want to dump him.
“Frankly I think the people of Australia are sick of the insider obsessions of people in Canberra,” he told reporters.
Prospective leadership contenders Ms Bishop and Mr Turnbull steered clear of the speculation, with both declaring their support for the Prime Minister.
Mr Turnbull said it was “absolutely critical” that Liberals concentrated on the NSW election and the return of the Baird government.
“The Prime Minister has my support. He has the support of the cabinet and life goes on,” Mr Turnbull said.