Sol Lebovic, a polling consultant, told Al Jazeera: “There is no doubt it is incredibly tough for John Howard to win this.
“He’s come from behind before, but both in 2001 and 2004, by about mid-year in the election year he was already competitive. Here we are getting towards the end of the year and he still trails by a long way.”
Among the issues the election will determine are the future of Australia’s military contribution in Iraq and its stance on climate change.
Labor has promised to withdraw troops from Iraq and sign the Kyoto climate pact, but the election will also be fought and won on domestic issues.
Rudd, 50, has promised sweeping reforms to health and education as well as an overhaul of controversial labour laws introduced by Howard.
The election explained
Profile: John Howard
A Taverner/Sun Herald newspaper poll said that those laws which cut working conditions and make it easier to hire and fire workers are a major reason first-time voters and those aged under 29 seem likely to dump Howard, with three-quarters backing Labour.
The poll, published on Sunday, showed Labour with 59 per cent of the vote, compared to the government’s 41 per cent.
With Labor needing to pick up 16 seats in the 150-seat lower house to take power, the survey showed Rudd was on track for a win, with up to 20 seats expected to change from government hands on polling day, the newspaper said.
Meanwhile, Geoffrey Hawker, a professor at Macquarie university, said that the opposition party is ahead by an unprecedented degree.
“There has never been an opposition party this far ahead in the elections in 30 years,” Hawker told Al Jazeera live from Sydney.
Howard, the country’s second-longest serving leader, who is seeking a fifth term, has stressed his economic stewardship and tough security credentials to win back voters.
Last week unemployment hit 33-year lows amid the ongoing global resources boom.
However, the prime minister’s bedrock support in mortgage-paying outer suburban areas has been shaken since the last election, three years ago.
Al Jazeera’s Dan Nolan reports that Howard is losing support in areas such as the marginal western Sydney seat of Lindsay where rising interest rates have caused a sharp increase in home repossessions.
Once safely held by the opposition Labor party, this seat has been in Howard’s Liberal party hands ever since he took power in 1996.
Karen Higgins is one who switched her vote to Howard because of his promise to keep interest rates low. Now she feels let down.
“A lot of people feel this way. They were promised interest rates won’t go up and they’ve gone up probably four times since the last election,” Higgins said, adding that she remains undecided on who she will be voting for.
Successive interest rate rises have taken lending rates to 6.5 per cent under a tightening cycle that began back in 2002.
Howard has promised a national vote on recognition for Aborigines in the country’s constitution if he wins, a move dismissed by opponents as a last ditch effort to present a “vision” to lure back jaded former conservative supporters.