The Federal Coalition has taken the lead from Labor after months of deadlock in today’s Essential Report poll.

A 2-point rise in the Coalition’s primary vote to a recent high of 46%, at the expense of Labor, which has fallen to 39%, sees the Coalition take a 2PP lead of 51-49%, the first time it has led in nearly three years of Essential Report polling. The Greens remain at 8%.

The rise comes on the back of a hammering for the Government on interest rates, on which shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey stole a march on Wayne Swan by pre-emptively attacking the lack of banking competition in the lead-up to the Reserve Bank’s rate rise last Tuesday.

Bank regulation featured prominently in the issues of concern to voters identified by Essential. In response to a question about what economic issues concerned them most, 60% were “very concerned” petrol and energy prices, 54% about excessive executive salaries and 53% about housing affordability and insufficient bank regulation (in contrast, only 32% were very concerned about insufficient regulation of large corporations more generally, and only 44% were concerned about interest rates per se).

The Liberals have a handy lead over Labor on most of these issues when it comes to perceptions of who is better at handling them. Labor leads only on “improving wages for lower income earners”, the age pension and executive salaries; it trails the Liberals on every other issue of concern. The Liberals lead Labor by 10 points – 19-29% – on regulation of banks, by 13 points on interest rates, and 10 points on petrol and energy prices.

However, most voters think there are only small differences between the major parties, and that they’re getting closer to one another. Only 19% of voters think there’s a “lot of difference” between the Labor and Liberal parties, and 51% think they’ve grown closer together in recent years (up by 2 points compared to the last time the question was asked by Essential).

That’s (more) bad news for Labor given the leads the Coalition has on most issues, suggesting that if voters can’t see any difference between the parties, they might as well stick with the party they think is better at handling an issue.

Essential also asked about levels of government support for different sectors, with agriculture, renewable energy and manufacturing drawing strong support, and mining, banking and media considered not to merit government assistance. Voters preferred direct subsidies and grants for the renewables sector, protection from overseas competition for agriculture and manufacturing.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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