Julia Gillard remains profoundly unpopular with voters — but Tony Abbott is maintaining his impressive feat of being even less popular than the Prime Minister.

Voter approval of Gillard has slipped a fraction in weekly Essential Research polling since January, with the Prime Minister losing a point in approval and gaining one in disapproval to take her net disapproval rating to 17% (36%-53%). Abbott has also gone backwards slightly since January as well: his approval was steady on 35%, with disapproval going up by two points to 53%. Both changes are well within the poll’s margin of error.

The Prime Minister also extended her narrow lead as preferred PM from three to seven points — 41-34% — the biggest lead she’s had since March 2011.

A detailed look at Essential’s combined approval ratings data drawn from 1906 respondents across states and demographics since December — a period in which neither leaders’ ratings have shifted significantly — suggests while Gillard’s position is parlous, Abbott’s is even worse.

In NSW, Gillard has a small lead on Abbott on approval, they tie on disapproval and Gillard has a small lead — six points — as preferred PM.

In Victoria, the Prime Minister unsurprisingly performs better — she is five points higher than Abbott in approval, equal to him on disapproval and has nearly a 10-point lead as preferred PM.

But Abbott has it all over Gillard in Queensland — the opposition leader has a much higher approval rating there than the PM, a much lower disapproval rating, and a two-point lead as preferred PM.

Abbott also performs better with men — he has a slightly higher approval rating, lower disapproval and trails by only one point as preferred PM.

But among women, Abbott still has a serious problem. Gillard doesn’t attract more female support than male — in fact her approval rating among women is nearly three points lower than among men, but among women Abbott’s approval rating is nearly 10 points below his level with men. Gillard also has a lower disapproval rating among women than men, but Abbott’s is three points higher. And Gillard has a big lead, more than eight points, as preferred PM among women, compared to men, among whom she leads by a point.

Gillard unsurprisingly also performs better among low-income voters than middle and higher-income voters. Her approval rating drops several points among the latter compared to the former, while Abbott’s rises. Similarly, her disapproval rating rises with income, whereas Abbott’s falls. Gillard only has the narrowest of leads as preferred PM among middle and higher-income voters, while she leads her opponent by more than 10 points among lower income voters.

But there’s one other interesting difference: Abbott performs worse among Liberal voters than Gillard does among Labor voters — 76% of Labor voters approve of Gillard, compared to just under 67% of Liberal voters who approve of Abbott. Just over 15% of Labor voters disapprove of the PM, while just over 21% of Liberal voters disapprove of Abbott. Eighty three per cent of Labor voters prefer Gillard as PM, while just under 74% of Liberal voters prefer Abbott.

Part of that is explained by the larger Liberal-National vote — necessarily the Coalition has more voters in it who might have previously supported Labor, and who are less likely to approve of Abbott even if they are sufficiently disillusioned with the government to shift their vote. But it appears that Abbott’s lack of popularity has some deep roots in the electorate.

That’s not to say Gillard is in a much better position. The electorate can’t stand either of them.

According to voters, though, Abbott will be in his current job long after the PM. Almost half (47%) of voters expect that Gillard will no longer be prime minister at the next election in 2013, compared to only 25% who think Abbott will have been replaced. Labor voters are more likely to believe Gillard will still be PM, and similarly Liberal voters about Abbott.

On voting intention, there’s minimal change from last week. The Coalition remains on 47%; Labor’s vote lifted a point to 34% and the Greens’ fell one to 10%. The 2PP vote remains at its steady state of 54-46%.

You wonder whether the first party to dump its deeply disliked leader might change that dramatically.

Peter Fray

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