Australians have undergone a sharp reversal in their attitude towards nuclear following the Fukushima crisis, according to today’s Essential poll.

Support for nuclear power in Australia has been relatively stable, according to Essential, which has asked voters about it in early 2009 and late last year: 43% of voters supported the development of nuclear power, and 35%-7% opposed it. Last week, as the world watched the nuclear emergency unfold in Japan, support collapsed to 35% and opposition rose to 53%, including a doubling of strong opposition to 32%. Only Liberal voters continue to support it, 46%-43%.

Tony Abbott’s continually shifting position on climate change has also left voters confused. Asked whether they believe Abbott and the Coalition back or oppose action to address climate change, 36% of voters say Abbott and the opposition support climate change action, 33% believe they oppose any action to address climate change, and a very high 29% say they don’t know … 59% of Liberal voters believe Abbott wants to do something about climate change, but even 24% of Liberal voters are unclear on his position.

Essential also asked several other questions. On Afghanistan, there’s been a substantial increase in support for withdrawal, from 47% in October last year to 56% last week, even as Julia Gillard wowed Americans with her own version of “all the way with LBJ”. Only 5% now support an increase in our troop levels, down from 10%, with the number supporting maintaining our current level steady at 30%. Green voters are most strongly opposed to a continuing role, but even Liberal supporters of withdrawal outweigh those who want to increase our troop numbers and those who want to maintain current levels, put together.

There’s also mixed news for the Coalition’s long-running scare campaign on electricity prices … 79% of voters believe a carbon tax will increase the cost of electricity, but 78% believe they’ll rise without one, which the Coalition has been anxious to downplay. But there’s also mixed views on the effectiveness of a carbon tax — only 42% of voters believe it will make big polluters reduce their carbon emissions, while 43% disagree. And only 41% believe a carbon price will increase investment in renewable energy, compared to 38% who don’t believe it will.

On voting intention, there’s been a marginal shift in Labor’s favour, with the government picking up a point to a primary vote of 36% and the Coalition dropping a point to 46%. It’s enough to cut the Coalition lead, but it’s still healthy at 53%-47% on a 2PP basis.