Despite voters believing the leadership challenge was “very bad” for the government and Julia Gillard and her ministers performed poorly in handling it, Labor’s primary vote has stayed the same, according to new polling from Essential Research.

Thirty eight per cent of voters believed the leadership stoush was “very bad” and another 24% thought it was bad for the government, while 47% said it made them less likely to vote for Labor. Forty nine per cent of voters thought Julia Gillard had performed poorly during the spill and 52% of voters thought her ministers had performed poorly — the Gillard camp was notable for its savage attacks on Kevin Rudd, led by Treasurer Wayne Swan.

But despite that, Labor’s primary vote remains at 32% and the Coalition on 49%. With the Greens dropping a point to 10%, the 2PP is the same as last week, 56-44%.

Interestingly, Labor voters responded very differently on whether the turmoil of the past fortnight would make them more or less likely to vote Labor: 33% said it would make them more likely to, and only 21% less likely. Sixty four per cent of Liberal voters said it made them less likely to, and 38% of Greens voters, compared to 18% of Greens voters who were more likely to.

On Kevin Rudd’s future, voters are almost evenly divided: 30% of voters think Rudd should now resign from parliament compared to 29% who think he should challenge again and 28% who think he should remain on the backbench and not challenge. Rudd has committed not to challenge Gillard again this term and defend her from any other assaults.

It’s also interesting that the turmoil has had only a small effect on the number of voters who want an election called. Since mid-2011, the number of voters wanting Parliament to run its full term has been steadily increasing and in January stood at 48% to 41% who wanted an election. That has shifted to 46% wanting Parliament to run a full term and 44% wanting an election.

Despite the visceral nature of the leadership contest, in which cabinet confidentiality was waived as part of a process of attacking Kevin Rudd’s leadership style, the immediate fallout for Labor appears limited: the party’s parlous position has not worsened. The government will now hope for a leadership tension-free period in which to turn the spotlight onto Tony Abbott and focus on his lack of economic credibility in the lead-up to May’s budget.

Voters also thought the media had performed poorly during the spill, with 14% of voters rating their performance as good, and 43% rating it poor. Abbott’s performance was rated slightly better than Gillard’s, with 25% saying good and 40% saying poor. Rudd was deemed to have performed best, with 33% of voters rating his performance as good and 34% poor.

The process also elicited some differences between voters about the basis on which parties should choose leaders. Fifty six per cent of voters thought parties should pick whomever has the most support from voters, compared to 30% who thought MPs should pick the person they thought best to lead the party. But that didn’t apply to Greens voters: 49% of Greens voters thought leaders should the person MPs thought best to lead the party should be selected, and only 40% thought it should the person favoured by voters.

And despite misconceptions around whether voters elect the Prime Minister, there was most support for the current system of party MPs choosing national party leaders, 36%, compared to 31% support for a primary system. The British system of party members choosing a leader had little support, on 11%.

The Essential sample size was 1042.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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