Voters’ disenchantment with the Prime Minister and her government is at an all-time high, according to today’s Essential Report.

Julia Gillard’s approval ratings have fallen even further as she embarks on what some believe is a make-or-break effort to sell the carbon price package. Only 29% of voters approve of her performance, down 34% from her previous nadir last month. A staggering 62% of voters disapprove of her performance, up 8 points from June.

Voters remain cool about Tony Abbott — his approval and disapproval ratings both went up 1 point to 39% approval and 49% disapproval but for the first time in Essential’s history the Opposition Leader leads the Prime Minister as preferred PM, 39-37%, a turnaround from Gillard’s 5 point lead in June.

Labor’s primary vote has fallen 2 points, making for a 4 point drop in the last four weeks. The Coalition primary vote is now 50%, and it leads on a 2PP basis 57-43.

Support for the Government’s carbon pricing scheme has fallen again back to levels last seen in March: 35% support it and 53% oppose it, compared to 38% support and 49% opposition in June, although most of the polling was completed before yesterday announcement.

It is hard to see Julia Gillard’s standing as a political leader recovering from such toxic levels of disapproval; a net disapproval rating of 33 points is reminiscent of the worst days of Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson, and all the worse because voters clearly do not like Tony Abbott.

The really serious slide in both Ms Gillard’s approval ratings and Labor’s vote began after the announcement of the carbon price plan early in the year. Until then, Labor was matching the Coalition on the 2PP and Ms Gillard had a decent net approval rating and a big lead on Tony Abbott as Preferred PM. Since then, all three have crumbled.

Carbon pricing contributed to John Howard’s demise, killed off Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd, and now looks like doing the same for Julia Gillard. A more apt comparison, though, may be with Kevin Rudd’s mining tax proposal. In failing to sell voters on a sound economic policy, Rudd opened the door to his assassin. The carbon pricing scheme may well do the same to her.

Essential also reveals how little people know about Australia’s foreign aid program, the subject last week of a major review and overhaul initiated by Kevin Rudd. Asked what proportion of the Budget is directed to foreign aid, 7% of people said less than 1%, 8% said about 1% (in 2011-12 it will be around 1.1%), 17% said 2%, and 27% said 5% or more, including 30% of Liberal voters. 41% said they didn’t know. Asked if they thought we spend too much on foreign aid, 42% agreed, and 16% thought we spend too little. 21% thought it was about right. 52% of Liberal voters thought we spent too much; 37% of Greens voters thought we spend too little.