Most Australians support the release of the WikiLeaks cables, say that Julian Assange should receive legal support, and are critical of the federal government’s rhetoric on the issue, new polling reveals.

And support for Assange and the diplomatic document leaks is largely uniform across party lines, with Labor and Coalition voters approving the right of WikiLeaks to release the highly sensitive information.

A weekly online poll from Essential Research found more than half of voters approve of the release of the cables (33% approve; 20% strongly approve), compared to a quarter who expressed concern (14% disapprove; 11% strongly).

Support for WikiLeaks was, not surprisingly, highest among Greens voters (80% total approval) but still strong across party lines — 55% of Labor voters approve in total compared to 51% of Liberal/National supporters. Disapproval ratings were the same (30% in total) across both sides of politics.

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There is similar levels of support for Assange, the bailed WikiLeaks founder who faces r-pe allegations in Sweden and the prospect of espionage charges under US law. Half of respondents say Assange should receive support and assistance from the Australian government if he is charged with an offence — 76% of Greens voters, 52% of Labor voters and 50% of conservatives.

About a quarter of those polled believe Assange shouldn’t receive legal and consular support — 29% Labor and 27% among Coalition voters.

Support for Assange manifests in criticism of the government’s handling of the issue. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called the WikiLeaks dump “grossly irresponsible” and “illegal”, apparently  isolating the majority of Australians who support WikiLeaks.

Asked about the government’s response, 46% were critical (27% disapprove; 19% strongly disapprove) compared to 32% who back Gillard’s rhetoric. Criticism comes mostly from Greens voters (66% disapprove) and Coalition supporters (54%), but resentment is still high among Labor voters — 38% disapprove of the stance compared to 45% who support the government.

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But the controversy doesn’t appear to have harmed overall support for the government, which is still slumped four points behind the Coalition in two-party preferred polling (48%:52%) but no worse than its position a week ago. Primary support for Labor actually jumped a point (38%) to be eight points behind the Coalition (46%).

Gillard did see a slight rise in her personal disapproval numbers over the past month, up two points to 40%. More voters still approve of her performance, which is steady on 43%.

Tony Abbott leveled out with a one-point dip in his approval and disapproval — both running at 39%. And there was no change in the better PM stakes — 45% still rate Gillard a better manager than Abbott on 34%.

Voters generally are optimistic about the new year. They contend the economy will improve (48% say it will be a “good” year for the economy compared to 16% who worry it will be “poor”) along with their personal financial situation (38% “good”; 20% “poor”). But it’s unlikely to be a positive year for Labor, voters believe — 40% believe 2011 will be “poor” for the government and the Liberal Party will have a better year (35% “good”; 18% “poor”).

Poll responders were also asked about nuclear power — and demonstrated little more support for the cleaner energy source than they did almost a year earlier. More people still support the use of nuclear power than oppose its use, but the 43% approval figure hasn’t budged since the question was asked in late January. Opposition firmed slightly, with 37% against nuclear power compared to 35% in January.

20-12-2010 12-50-56 PM

Peter Fray

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