Labor’s primary vote has fallen slightly, to the benefit of the Greens, leaving the two-party preferred vote locked at 50:50. The Coalition vote has remained steady (44%) for the fourth week in a row. Labor lost a point (40%) while the Greens picked up one to 9%.

The split vote maintains the parties’ virtually tied standing since the last week of the election campaign.

The Coalition’s steady vote has been unaffected by a substantial dip in Tony Abbott’s approval ratings following his entanglements on Afghanistan, which saw considerable confusion over the Coalition’s position on whether to increase the Australian presence in the conflict. Compared to just over a month ago, Abbott has returned to the net disapproval figures that have dominated his period as leader, with an eight-point rise in his disapproval rating (45%) and a four-point fall in his approval rating (39%).

Julia Gillard’s ratings have remained virtually the same as a month ago: 46% approval and 37% disapproval. Gillard has also extended her lead over Abbott as preferred prime minister, picking up two points, while Abbott lost two points in the last month. Her 16-point lead is the largest since the early stages of the election campaign.

There has been a substantial improvement in voters’ expectations about the economy after a mid-year slump in confidence that saw a rise in the number of people expecting both the national economy and their own financial circumstances to worsen — a factor that may have blunted Labor’s attempts to take credit for its handling of the GFC during the election campaign. Now, 40% of voters expect economic conditions to improve compared to 30% who expect them to worsen, compared to a two-point gap at the end of June.

Exactly a third of voters expect their own financial situation to improve, and 29% expect it to worsen — a lift from June when more expect them to worsen than improve. And the numbers of voters professing concern that they or their family will lose their job is back down to near the lowest since Essential first began asking the question in February 2009. It had fallen to 39% in March, went back up to 43% in June, but is now at 40%

And in the wake of the controversy over the preparation of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Basin Plan, voters also identified water and rivers as the most important environmental problem facing Australia — far higher than climate change. A touch over 50% nominated water supply and 38% the health of rivers and waterways, compared to 30% who nominated climate change. The best-supported option for addressing over-allocation on the Murray-Darling is purchasing water voluntarily (36%). The same number, 17%, support leaving existing allocations in place and compulsorily acquiring water.

Peter Fray

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