It wasn’t that long ago that the meme-de-jure for the great Coalition comeback of 2009 was “economic management”. With a merchant banker at the helm — so the theory went — the great Howard legacy of “The Economy” would once again take center stage as the nation’s pre-eminent issue, thus delivering the Coalition the government benches that they only lost because of a silly little mistake the public made at the last election.

Great idea — the only problem being that “legacy” has become a bit of a four letter word.

Yesterday’s Essential Report, a weekly poll released by Essential Media Communications — the full gory details of which can be seen over on the blog — ran seven questions on the economy, interest rates and the politics involved. The results pretty much smash that meme-de-jure into very little pieces.

On the question of “How would you rate the performance of the Rudd Government at handling the Australian economy?”, the results came in 66/29 in favour of the government with 6% being “Don’t Knows”.

On the question of “How do you think the Rudd Government is addressing the global financial crisis?”, the results came in 68/23 in the government’s favour with 9% having “No Opinion”.

Regardless of the way you ask the question, a solid two thirds of the public have a generically favourable view of the Rudd government’s economic management.

That alone would be problematic enough for an Opposition that views its biggest strength as economic issues — but it gets worse.

Essential also asked a rather longish question: “The Liberal Opposition says that Australia’s economy would have turned around without the stimulus package which the Labor Government put in place. The Rudd Government says that without the stimulus package, Australia would have gone into a much deeper recession and thousands of more Australians would have lost their jobs. Which is closer to your view?”

The result was a 54/24 split favouring the government’s view with 22% being “Don’t Knows”.

Not only does a solid two thirds of the country approve of the government’s behaviour on the economy, not only does a clear majority believe that the only reason Australia avoided a deep recession was because of the governments actions — but only one in four voters actually believe that the Coalition’s biggest set of talking points for the last six months is true.

The latest tactical talking point of the Coalition is to focus on interest rate rises as being a result of the government’s stimulus package — on this Essential Report asked the following question:

“Some people say that the .25% rise in interest rates is a sign that the economy is beginning to improve and that it reflects a positive trend in the economy. The Liberal Opposition says the rise in interest rates is primarily due to the reckless and excessive stimulus spending of the Rudd Labor Government and has nothing to do with the economic recovery. Which is closer to your view?”

Again, the results came in 55/23 in favour of the government with 22% being “Don’t Knows”.

Every single economic angle the Opposition has been raising as an attack is being dismissed by the public, leaving the Coalition on the wrong side of public opinion, often by large majorities.

In many respects it comes back to expectations — after years of mistakenly believing that economic management was actually a permanent strength of the Coalition as a result of some mystical Howard legacy, they are struggling to adapt to the reality that economic management, like most polling metrics, usually just favours the incumbent.

Interest rates, debt and deficits, the strength of the economy — all the same political lines trotted out by Howard in government are being run as sequels in Opposition, yet the results are vastly different.

There’s the real legacy — incumbency rules. You’ve got to figure out why you lost it in the first place.