Labor has taken another hit in support, with online polling from Essential Research slicing another point off two-party preferred support. But while support for the Coalition grows, opposition leader Tony Abbott remains on the nose.

The Coalition increased its 2PP lead, now at 54-46 according to the weekly poll. Labor’s primary vote of 35% is a new low, while the Coalition remains on 47%; the Greens are also steady at 10%.

Julia Gillard’s standing has also taken a big hit in the wake of the carbon price announcement, with her prime ministerial approval rating falling seven points since mid-February and her disapproval rating rising five points. At -5 points, Gillard is now into net disapproval territory — uncharted territory for the prime minister who as late as January had an approval rating of over 50%.

But Abbott’s ratings, bizarrely, actually worsened slightly, with his disapproval rating rising 1 point to 47%. His net disapproval rating is -9 points — both Gillard and Abbott have remarkably high “strong disapproval” numbers: she at 24%, he at 23%. Gillard’s lead as preferred PM has shrunk six points to 44-33%.

Essential also re-asked voters about their support for a carbon pricing scheme, but this time posed an additional question — would voters support a carbon pricing scheme “if the money paid by big polluting industries was used to compensate low and middle-income earners and small businesses for increased prices?” That entirely altered voters’ responses: support increased from 38% to 54%, and opposition dropped by an even bigger amount, 49% to 30%.

Greens voters remained unaffected in the second question, but both Labor and Liberal voters responded significantly more positively — Labor voters’ support went from 55% to 74% and Liberal voters’ support jumped from 20% to 34%.

The level of household compensation and the commitment to fully compensate low and possibly even middle-income earners has not featured in the government’s “selling” of its carbon price announcement, such as it has been. This is partly because the process of developing the carbon price mechanism hasn’t reached that level yet, but also because the government has failed to make clear that all parties to the process agree that households would receive compensation.

Household compensation under the CPRS, while generous, also played little role in the Rudd government’s limited promotion of that scheme. There appears to be a widespread public belief that revenue from a carbon pricing scheme would simply act as the “great big new tax” that Abbott has sold it as, rather than be returned to consumers and polluters via compensation mechanisms that don’t undermine the price signal impact of the carbon price.

In short, the government has allowed Abbott to frame the debate over the carbon price before it has even got going, just as it allowed him to frame the debate over the CPRS, and just as it has allowed the Coalition to frame the debate over any number of key issues. This is a government that repeatedly compares itself to the Hawke/Keating era of economic reform, but its reform efforts, as limited as they are, are being undermined by breathtaking incompetence in how it communicates with the public and sells its case for reform.

But for all his success in setting the terms of political debate, Abbott remains the same problematic political identity he has been since he became leader: voters may blow hot and cold on Labor leaders, but they’re simply not very enthusiastic about Abbott, even when they’re plainly unhappy with his opponent.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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