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Bill Shorten's biggest challenge is to make himself more likeable

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In 1996 Paul Keating went into the federal election with 45 per cent of voters preferring him as prime minister over the 40 per cent who preferred opposition leader John Howard. Yet Howard won the election convincingly. The election result in 1996 was strikingly similar to last week's Newspoll that gave the Bill Shorten led ALP 53 per cent of the two-party preferred vote to Malcolm Turnbull's Coalition's 47 per cent.

A quick look at the history of Newspoll's preferred prime minister statistics shows this is not an aberration. John Hewson went to the 1993 poll as preferred prime minister but the incumbent Keating won a handsome victory. In July 2013 Kevin Rudd was preferred by 53 per cent of us compared with the meagre 31 per cent who wanted Tony Abbott. And we all remember how that election, a few months later in September, turned out.

It's stats like these that are consoling some Labor people around Parliament House in Canberra in the light of the big drop in Bill Shorten's preferred prime minister figure (down from 33 to 29 this poll) despite the ALP's 19th consecutive month of leading the two-party preferred vote, with that margin increasing markedly in recent months.

Providing these figures hold, Bill Shorten looks like he will romp in at the next election. On this week's Newspoll, with its 2.5 per cent swing to Labor, Shorten would win 13 seats, giving him a seven-seat majority over the Coalition and able to govern without needing the five independents.

There is a growing confidence among the party's senior people that this will happen, whenever the election is. They point to the government's constant gaffes and own goals, its lack of policies on, for instance, critical issues such as energy, and its destructive internal civil war, all of which point to making the Turnbull government increasingly unelectable.

Against that, Shorten has presided over a tightly focused team that is displaying the kind of discipline that once would have seemed impossible for a faction-ridden Labor Party. He has also committed several acts of political bravery, promising policies such as winding back negative gearing and moving on capital gains tax and family trusts that conventional........

© The Age