Labor leader Mark McGowan is chipping away at the popularity of Premier Colin Barnett, whose approval rating among voters is at its lowest since he took office in September 2008, according to polling.

While Mr McGowan has boosted Labor's standing six months after replacing Eric Ripper at the party's helm, Mr Barnett's Liberal-National Government is in a commanding position and would easily win a State election if it was held now.

The latest Westpoll reveals that Labor's primary vote, which stood at a record 29 per cent low in January after Mr Ripper's resignation, has recovered to 35 per cent.

The Liberals' primary vote has fallen from 52 per cent to 47 per cent, with the Nationals steady at 2 per cent. The Greens are down from 11 per cent in January to 8 per cent, with 8 per cent picking other parties or undecided.

On a two-party preferred basis, the Barnett Government would win an election with 54 per cent of the vote compared with Labor's 46 per cent. While this represents a comfortable margin for the conservatives, it is a far cry from the 59-41 result Westpoll recorded in January, a figure that represented electoral oblivion for Labor and the potential loss of 10 seats.

Mr Barnett still leads Mr McGowan as preferred premier 42-37, with 12 per cent preferring neither man and 9 per cent undecided.

Mr McGowan has narrowed the gap significantly after his predecessor Mr Ripper languished in the teens. Mr Barnett's high point as preferred premier was 59 per cent and never fell below 54 per cent while Mr Ripper led Labor.

In two polls since Mr McGowan took over, Mr Barnett was preferred by 48 per cent of those polled in January and 42 per cent this week.

Pollster Keith Patterson, of Patterson Research Group, said Mr Barnett had slid in the preferred premier stakes but his Government remained "fairly comfortable ahead of Labor in voting intent".

"Whilst the Barnett Government still looks to be in a strong position, the fact that Labor has gained so much in the face of an unpopular Federal Labor Government must ring alarm bells for Liberal Party strategists," he said. "On this data the Government are still the likely winners of the next election but they will need Nationals support."

Quizzed about the poll yesterday, Mr Barnett said: "I've said before I think the next election will be a tight result. This is reflected in the latest Westpoll."

Mr McGowan said the polling showed Labor was "definitely the underdog" to win the election, due in March. "We obviously need to keep working hard and keep coming up with more constructive policies and good ideas," he said.

The West Australian

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