Australians blame the federal government, companies’ excessive profits and the strong dollar for increases in the cost of living, according to today’s Essential Report, but tend to divide along partisan lines on the issue.

Asked the main reason for cost of living pressures, 28% of voters identified the federal government’s economic management, although that more reflected the fact that 51% of Liberal voters blamed Labor, whereas only 8-9% of Labor and Greens voters did so. About 18% blamed “excessive company profits” — there, Labor and Greens were much more likely to agree than not. Labor and Greens voters were also much more likely to believe — wrongly — that the strong Australian dollar was causing higher prices — 30% of Labor voters and 17% of Greens voters thought that, when the strong dollar reduces the price of imports and helps cushion against rising oil prices.

Only 9% of Liberal voters blamed the dollar. Lack of competition also divided voters of different parties — 24% of Greens blamed insufficient competition, 18% of Labor voters and only 9% of Liberal voters.

Economic management by state governments — a key contributor to higher electricity prices in NSW and Queensland — got off lightly, with only 6% blaming that. The only real agreement between different voters was that wage increases had minimal role — it only rated 4%.

In short, voters see the cost of living issue through their own ideological prisms. Indeed, Liberal voters more or less blame Labor and don’t think any other factors matter, while Labor and Green voters are more nuanced in their reaction, if still inclined to stress different causes.

Labor also had some mixed results on party branding. Its reputation as an economic manager has gotten worse — only 29% of people trust Labor over the Coalition to manage the economy, compared to 33% in January. It is also slightly weaker in education, protecting Australian jobs and on asylum seekers. But otherwise the rapid deterioration we’ve seen in Labor’s reputation appears to have bottomed out, and on most issues the gap between Labor and the Coalition has remained steady since the start of the year. The Greens still lead both parties on climate change and protecting the environment.

Voters also continue to think that the independents and Greens holding the balance of power has been bad for the country, 39% to 28% who think it has been good, a marginal narrowing since March, when it was 41-27%. Green strongly believe it has been good — 77% — and Liberal voters bad, 68%. Labor voters are much more lukewarm — 41% think it’s been neither good not bad.

On voting intention, there’s been only a fractional change on last week. A slight drop in the Coalition vote has the 2PP back at 53-47% where it was a fortnight ago. The Coalition is on 46%, Labor on 34% and the Greens on 12%.

Peter Fray

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