Support for a carbon price has fallen over the past fortnight, according to today’s Essential Report, with support dropping from 38% to 34% and opposition rising slightly to 51%.

However, debate around compensation and tax cuts appears to have strengthened support among Labor voters, with support rising from 55% to 63%. Already-low levels of support among Liberal voters fell, as did support, interestingly among Greens voters, down from 78% to 56%. The sample size for Greens voters is small, but the 22-point drop is significant, though hard to pin to a single issue. It may be that Ross Garnaut’s suggestion that big polluters receive CPRS-style compensation under a carbon pricing scheme has reduced support amongst Greens voters who regarded the Rudd-era scheme as ineffectual.

Voters expressed a preference for compensation via direct payments, rather than tax cuts, 39% to 33%. Even Liberal voters preferred handouts over a reduction in tax, 37-34%. There was little interest in a cut to the GST rate and virtually none in cuts to corporate tax rates.

However, 44% of voters didn’t want an early election on the issue, compared to 40% who did, suggesting the Coalition demand for a carbon price election such as John Howard’s 1998 GST election hasn’t yet got the expected traction.

In Essential’s other questions, Kevin Rudd scored high marks for his handling of his job as  Foreign Minister, with 61% approval and 19% disapproval; Rudd even has the support of Liberal voters, who rated him 47%-33%. There is strong, and virtually identical, support for the intervention in Libya across Labor (64% approval; 20% disapproval) and Liberal (63%-22%) voters, with only Greens voters cooler on the air strikes designed to end Colonel Gaddafi’s murder of his citizens, 53%-23%.

And the Christchurch and Japanese earthquakes have inspired plenty of fellow-feeling among Essential respondents. Asked which countries they want Australia to become closer to, the biggest mover from November last year was New Zealand … 37% want us to get closer to the Kiwis — quite how, other than by merging, isn’t clear — which was the highest of any country. And 26% of us want Australia to be closer to Japan, the other big increase since last year … 32% of us want to be closer to China. Support for a closer relationship with the US also rose to 24%.

On voting intention, Labor continued to claw back the Coalition’s big carbon price lead, pulling a primary vote off the Liberals to rise to 36%. The Coalition’s 2PP lead is now down to 52%-48%.