Labor’s reputation on key issues of concern to voters is continuing to take a hammering and its fall in voters’ esteem shows few signs of ending.
Essential Research has regularly asked voters what issues are important to them in shaping their voting intentions, and then asked which parties they trust more to handle those issues. Yesterday’s Essential Report contained the latest iteration and it makes grim reading for Labor.
Several issues form the core of what drives stated voting intentions. Economic management, health, education and Australian jobs and protection of local industries are the five issues that are consistently nominated by voters are important in deciding how they vote. And Labor is continuing to go backwards on all of them.
The only good news for the government is that on the most important issue, economic management (which is regularly rated by more than a third of voters as the single most important issue), Labor’s position has deteriorated only slightly. This time last year, 28% of voters trusted Labor more to handle the economy, compared to 35% for the Coalition. This seven-point gap for Labor recovered slightly in October, when it trailed by 5 points. Now it trails on economic management by 10 points, 33-43%.
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On health — an issue that Labor is traditionally supposed to “own”, it had a strong 10 point lead over the Coalition in October 2009, which had fallen to six points in January last year, one point in October — despite months spent on health reform — and now the parties are equally ranked, 33% each.
Education and Australian jobs remain two of the issues where Labor still has a lead, but those, too, have shrunk. In October 2009, it led by 17 points on education, 12 points in January last year, 11 points in October and now, just six points on an issue that Julia Gillard professes is her main political passion.
Labor’s lead on jobs has likewise shrunk — 17 in October 2009, 13 in January 2010, eight in October, now just three. Even on industrial relations, Labor’s once-massive lead has shrunk since 2009, from 27 points down to 10.
So, too, on climate change — an 18-point lead in 2009, a 19-point lead in January 2010 — after Tony Abbott began his “great big new tax” line — became a negative of one point in October, and now Labor trails by two points. The Greens have massive leads over both major parties on climate change and protecting the environment (where Labor trails as well).
Managing interest rates has badly blown out — Labor trailed by 8 points in January last year but now trails by 18 points. Housing affordability — one of the issues that Kevin Rudd built his campaign against John Howard on — has also turned negative for Labor, going from a nine-point lead in 2009 to a -4 point gap, despite government claims it is focused on addressing affordability and housing supply.
The only issues that Labor retains a strong lead are “Standing up for regular Australian working families” — 14 points — and “Making sure Australian working people got fair treatment at their workplace” — 12 points. Then again, if Labor can’t dominate on those issues, it should give up and go home.
These numbers are the fruit of Labor’s lack of certainty on its core values, and its inability to explain itself to voters even when it has acted with purpose and competence. That it is in danger of falling behind the Coalition on an issue like protecting Australian jobs, given the unemployment rate and our performance during the GFC, is testimony to just how spectacularly incompetent the government has been at getting its message across.
That climate change number, however, shows the remarkable folly of that decision to ditch the CPRS. What was once an issue the Labor party virtually owned has become a liability for it.
The damage to Labor’s brand might have slowed in recent months, but shows no sign of stopping.