Support for federal Labor is collapsing, as voters sheet home the blame for the budget deficit to government mismanagement.

The Coalition has arrested recent gains in Labor’s vote, according to Essential Research’s weekly online poll, with Labor’s primary vote falling another two points to 31%. The Coalition jumps three points to claim 50% of the primary vote, shaking out to a two-point turnaround in the two-party preferred vote: 50-31%.

The economy still weighs heavily on voters’ minds. While most economists are comfortable with Australia’s debt levels and have urged the government not to return to surplus so quickly, voters seem to believe debt levels should never have blown out as much as they have.

Asked by Essential what was “most responsible for the deficit over the past few years”, most of the 1032 respondents said it was due to “poor economic management” by the government, which has vowed to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13.

This question was last asked 12 months ago. Then, 23% of respondents blamed government mismanagement and 19% blamed the cost of the government’s GFC stimulus package. That dropped in the latest poll to just 12% blaming the GFC stimulus package as the largest reason for the budget deficit.

When broken up into voting intention, Coalition voters were more likely to blame bad economic management by the government (48%), while Labor voters said big companies not paying enough taxes (28%) and lower tax revenues (27%) were responsible.

Despite Julia Gillard’s promise to return the budget to surplus, only 23% supported putting the country back into the black if it meant cutting services and raising taxes. In comparison, the majority of voters — 66% — preferred a delay on returning the budget to surplus and instead maintaining services and an investment in infrastructure. Those most likely to support a return to surplus “came from respondents aged 25-44 (30%), Liberal/National voters (32%), full-time workers (32%) and those on income over $1600 per week (36%)”, said Essential.

Last week Opposition Leader Tony Abbott called for the Productivity Commission to investigate whether nannies should be included in the childcare rebate. That may be a vote winner, with 44% of Essential respondents strongly supportive of the idea. In contrast, 33% of respondents strongly opposed the concept of a nanny rebate and 22% had no opinion.

Not surprisingly, Liberal/National voters are more likely to support the plan (57%) and Labor and Greens voters more likely to oppose the plan (49% and 44% respectively).

When asked if government subsidies and benefits — such as childcare rebates and health insurance premiums — should be means tested, 37% of respondents said they should be, 25% said all should receive government subsidies regardless of income and 29% said they didn’t know. Labor voters were overwhelming more likely to support means testing — 82% — while Liberal/National supporters were more likely to not — 52%.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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