The vast majority of Australians reject moves by the big retailers to apply GST to online purchases, not surprisingly, with new Essential Research polling revealing how ingrained online shopping has become for consumers.

The online poll of more than 1000 people shows most have purchased goods from online stores at least once in the past year, primarily hunting for cheaper prices. Books are the most popular choices using overseas stores, followed by music and video, computers and accessories and clothing and shoes.

Calls from some of Australia’s retail giants to apply GST to overseas purchases of $1000 or less to better compete with online retailers are rejected overwhelmingly. More than 70% disapprove, compared to 18% who support a change in policy. Support for the status quo cuts across party lines, though slightly lower among Liberal/National voters.

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Those polled demonstrate how much online shopping has become a habit: almost 90% had purchased products online in the last 12 months, 82% more than once and 35% more than six times. Most are attracted by cheaper prices (60% said it was “very important”), along with the convenience (50%) and range of products available (45%).

Australian online stores still have a market advantage, the polling would suggest. For most products consumers were about twice as likely to buy from local operators as from overseas competitors. But shoppers are still finding bargains offshore — books were the most popular items purchased overseas (a quarter of online shoppers had purchased a book in the past 12 months). From Australian stores, clothing and footwear was the most popular choice.

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While some have cast the GST debate as a war between online and offline retailing, the polling reveals shoppers are using both to make purchases: more than 60% said they looked online before purchasing in a physical store, while half said they browsed a local retailer before buying online.

On voting intentions, the weekly poll reveals static support across the parties. Two-party preferred voting remains locked at 52% to 48% support in favour of the Liberal/National Coalition — the same as it was a month ago — and the Coalition remains ahead in primary voting, 46% compared to 38%.

Criticism last week of Julia Gillard’s performance in the wake of the Queensland floods was too recent to show up in approval ratings, which have actually improved for the prime minister since December. Gillard now sits at 51% approval, up from 43% on December 20. Disapproval has dropped from 40% to 56%.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott also enjoyed a three-point rise in his personal approval, but still trails Gillard in the better prime minister stakes by 15 points. Support for Gillard has also firmed here over the last month, up two points to 47% compared to Abbott on 32%.