The two things you can guarantee from any federal budget are whining special interest pleaders and, of course, polls — no budget is complete without a poll or three. Yet, as is generally the case with these things, the noise level of the complaining parties is often a world removed from the underlying electoral reality the polls attempt to measure.

Newspoll and Nielsen Budget Editions, those surveys that tell us who thought what about all things budgetary, were both released today in a head-to-head clash that produced nearly identical results.

Around 30% of the electorate believes that the budget will make them better off; around 30% believes it will make them worse off and the rest thought it would either make no difference, didn’t know or couldn’t give a toss.

Which makes me wonder what the answer would be should a pollster ever have the courage to ask “How much attention did you pay to the budget?” — I suspect the answer would be heartbreaking to commentators everywhere.

After you waded through the “Don’t remove the carriages from our gravy train” pleas by the Australian Health Insurance Association, there were essentially two big gripes that came out of the budget reaction wash-up as it was reported; pensioners were miffed and $150K households were staring down the barrel of economic destitution because of means tested welfare.

On the former, neither Nielsen nor Newspoll specifically measure budget opinion amongst pensioners with both preferring to use age cohorts instead. Newspoll tells us that of the folks aged 50+, 17% thought the budget would make them better off, 43% believe they’d be worse off and 33% neither. This compares to Nielsen’s 55+ cohort where 19% believed they’d be better off, 30% would be worse off and around half thought it wouldn’t make a difference.

Interestingly, the proportion of all people in the country over the age of 18 that are aged 50+ is 40.8% according to the census, whereas the same proportion of people aged 55+ is only 32%. Taking these numbers at face value, that 8.8% of the voting aged population between 50 and 54 would seem to be extremely depressed about the impact of the budget on their wellbeing. Maybe they’re luxury car buyers.

So while it seems that pensioners in general weren’t particularly impressed with the budget in terms of self-interest, there doesn’t appear to be the widespread level of pensioner rage that talk-back radio and the tabloids would have us all believe. Especially since Nielsen, with their older cohort that more closely resembles the demographic of the aged pension, had a substantially reduced negative reaction to the budget compared to the younger Newspoll cohort.

But the real test of political grievance is always the vote estimate — and that didn’t move over the budget period with the ALP still leading the Coalition 57/43 in two party preferred terms according to both pollsters, coming off the back of primaries running the ALP’s way 47/37 with Newspoll and 46/38 with Nielsen.

If there was political grief out there over the budget in Voterland, it wasn’t substantial enough to move political support an inch — which puts all the budget commentary into perspective.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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