John Howard is easily the most popular choice for Australia’s greatest postwar prime minister, new polling from Essential Report suggests, with 33% of voters saying he was Australia’s best prime minister, including 8% of Labor voters.

Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd are equal second on 15%, according to the weekly online poll of 1000-plus voters. The results are a significant change from when the question was last asked in January 2009, when Howard led by eight points from Kevin Rudd — 28% to 20%.

Unsurprisingly, the results skew strongly towards recent leaders, with only Robert Menzies making it into double figures (11%) from mid-20th century figures — 21% of seniors rate Menzies the best. Just as in 2009, Gough Whitlam fares much better than Malcolm Fraser, with 9% to Fraser’s 3% both times. Paul Keating has gone backwards in estimation, from 8% to 6%.

Sixty one per cent of Coalition voters picked Howard. Among Labor voters, Hawke leads Rudd 23-21%, followed by Gough and Keating. Intriguingly, Greens voters rank Kevin Rudd the best on 27%, then Hawke. Julia Gillard manages 3%.

Essential also found an interesting disparity in voters’ views of the Rudd government’s Building the Education Revolution schools stimulus program, which was the target of highly critical media campaigns from some sections of News Limited, talkback radio and the ABC. Only 30% of voters rated the program good or very good, and 31% rated it poorly.

But when voters with school-age children were asked, 43% rated the program good, particularly parents with primary-age kids, 49% of whom liked the program; 49% said their schools had benefited a lot or moderately from the program; a further 23% said “a little”. Only 12% said their schools had benefited “not at all”. The BER also heavily divides voters, with only 17% of Liberal voters rating the program well.

Julia Gillard’s mandatory pre-commitment trial for poker machines is strongly supported, with voters seemingly unfazed by her retreat from a commitment to introduce the technology across Australia. Fifty eight per cent  of voters approve and 29% disapprove.

On voting intention, there’s been little change: Labor and the Coalition have drifted down a point to 34% and 47% respectively. The Greens remain on 10%, for the same 2PP outcome of 54-46%. However, despite Andrew Wilkie walking away from the government, sentiment remains against any early election, with 48% of voters wanting parliament to run until 2013 and 41% wanting an election, virtually the same result as in December but the reverse of September’s result.