Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott end the political year as deeply unpopular leaders, losing the faith of even more voters in the latest Essential Research poll.

Both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader saw their approval ratings slump compared to last month, according to Essential’s online panel of voters, and Gillard has lost ground to Abbott in the preferred prime minister stakes. Just 39% prefer Gillard as PM (down two points) over Abbott on 35% (down one).

The Coalition also stole a point from Labor in its two-party preferred vote, now at 55% against the Labor vote of 45%.

The opposition line that Gillard’s personal standing had only improved through stateswoman-like performances on the world stage has borne fruit: while Gillard’s personal approval ratings jumped to 37% in November, this month it has flat-lined at 34%. It’s well above the low of 28% in September but still a long way from the 52% recorded before the election last year.

Not that it has helped the Opposition Leader. Abbott saw his approval figures fall to the lowest they’ve been all year — 32%, down from 36% last month and a high of 40% in October. His disapproval ratings also shifted a point higher to 53%.

The Greens were the biggest political winners of 2011, according to Essential’s panel when asked which parties and leaders had fared the best this year. Thirty-three per cent said the Greens had a good year, ahead of the Liberals (27%) and Labor (16%). Naturally, Bob Brown was declared the winner among legislators — 32% said the long-time Greens leader had a good year, slightly ahead of not Gillard (21%) or Abbott (21%) but exiled Labor leader Kevin Rudd (31%).

In a list of the most important policies on the Labor agenda, voters ranked the mining tax (48%) ahead of putting a price on carbon to address climate change (43%) and the plan to increase compulsory superannuation contributions to 12% (42%). Of all the issues — including maternity leave, childcare rebates, cigarette packaging, gambling reforms and uranium exports to India — giving Labor politicians a conscience vote on gay marriage ranked the lowest in terms of importance.

And if not Gillard or Abbott, who were the big winners of 2011? The banks, according to Essential respondents who were asked whether it had been a good or bad year for a selection of sectors, along with the mining industry and big business broadly. Voters believe farmers and small businesses have been hardest hit, with the environment among the losers.  Only 20% believe the economy has lost out in 2011.

Still, just 30% of respondents said it had been a good year for their personal finances (32% answered in the negative). But most (43%) said their companies had fared well.

Peter Fray

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