The economy and health remain the key issues that decide how people vote, according to the latest Essential Research poll. The least important? The treatment of asylum seekers.

Most respondents to the online poll nominated economic management (62%) and health (48%) as the biggest determining factors. The figures are similar to the same question asked in January and again in May. Other economic issues such as protecting local jobs (30%) and interest rates (17%) also rated highly, as did housing affordability (17%).

The least important issue of those mentioned to voters was treatment of asylum seekers, which was rated as most important by 1% of voters, and as important by 5% of voters (the Coalition has a seven-point lead on the issue). Managing population growth was important for 14% of voters, and most important for just 2%.

There’s also been an interesting turnaround in views on Afghanistan — support for increasing Australian forces in that country has nearly doubled from June, to 13%, almost back to the level of support for an increase in early 2009. There’s been a corresponding fall in support for withdrawing troops entirely, down from 61% to 49%, which is about where it was in early 2009. Nonetheless, full withdrawal remains the most popular option, even among Liberal voters.

Today’s report also has the major parties steady on 51:49 to Labor, preserving the deadlock since just before the election. The parties’ primary vote is about the same, with a small fall by Labor, while the  Greens’ slow downward drift of recent weeks has stopped at 8%.

The Coalition still leads on perceptions of economic management, leading Labor by five points (and by 14 points on managing interest rates), and only trails Labor by one point on management of health, suggesting that  Kevin Rudd’s work to make it a key Labor issue has been squandered. And Labor now trails the Coalition by one point over who would best manage climate change (the Greens have a big lead on both major parties).

The result disguise some important divisions between voters. Treatment of asylum seekers was an important issue for 10% of Greens voters, but only 3% of Labor voters and 5% of Liberal voters, giving weight to the theory that Labor’s ‘lurch to the right’ on the issue, as Rudd termed it, served more to drive Labor voters to the Greens than to keep Labor voters from straying to the Liberals.

A fair industrial relations system was only important to 6% of Liberal voters compared to 18% of Labor voters and 14% of Greens. Managing population growth was a lot more important to Liberal voters than to Labor voters (13% to 6%), while education was far more important to Labor voters (37%) than either Liberals or Greens (26% and 23% respectively).

Peter Fray

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