The Australian today brings us Newspoll’s regular quarterly breakdown of its federal polling by state, sex and age group. Compared with the last quarter of 2011, it finds Labor gained a point to lead 51-49 in South Australia, was steady at 50-50 in Victoria, cut the Coalition lead in New South Wales to 54-46 from 57-43 (59-41 in the July to September quarter), and took a point out of the still enormous Coalition leads in Queensland and Western Australia, which are now at 58-42 and 56-44. The Coalition’s two-party lead in the five main capitals is steady at 53-47 and down from 57-43 to 55-45 elsewhere.

Whereas last week’s Nielsen showed a dramatic widening in the gender gap between polls conducted in late February and late March, Newspoll records no such trend between its October-to-December and January-to-March surveys, which may of course conceal a very recent shift. It is interesting to note that the expectation Tony Abbott would poll badly among women was not realised in his earliest polls as Opposition Leader, but has been over time. Breaking it down by age group, the only change which skirts the roughly 3 per cent margins of error is among the 18-34s: Labor is up four points to 33 per cent, the Coalition down four points to 37 per cent and the Greens down three to 17 per cent.

Both leaders were down three on approval in New South Wales, Julia Gillard to 29 per cent and Tony Abbott to 33 per cent, but Abbott was up five in Queensland to 40 per cent. Abbott took a knock in Western Australia to be down five on approval to 31 per cent and up three on disapproval to 56 per cent. Preferred prime minister was essentially unchanged, although a shift in Gillard’s favour in South Australia – from 40-33 to 44-32 – pokes its head above the margin of error.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, Essential Research. As tends to be the case with polls these days, it’s very, very bad news for Labor, who have suffered a two-point shift away from them on two-party preferred compared with last week’s result – with the Coalition lead now at 57-43 – which is rare given that Essential publishes a two-week rolling average. The Coalition is up two points on the primary vote to 50 per cent – a new high for them so far as Essential is concerned – with Labor down two to 31 per cent and the Greens steady on 11 per cent.

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Further attitudinal questions show 73 per cent believe the government should delay returning the budget to surplus if that’s what is required to maintain services and invest in infrastructure, with only 12 per cent supporting cuts to services and tax increases to restore the budget surplus. Although it may be that many respondents can instead be restored by “economic management” 28 per cent blame the present government’s lack of it for the present deficit, with 59 per cent choosing four other options available (16 per cent showing awareness of “lower tax revenues because of the Global Financial Crisis”).

On the question of Tony Abbott’s proposed childcare rebate for nannies, 44 per cent are in favour and 33 per cent opposed. Sixty-eight per cent support means testing as a general principle, while 24 per cent believe “people should receive the same subsidies and benefits regardless of income”. A “party best at” question draws the intriguingly dissonant response of a 12-point advantage to Labor on “representing the interests of Australian working families”, but a 6-point advantage to Liberal on “representing the interests of you and people like you”.

Finally, 78 per cent of respondents believe workers should get a “higher hourly rate” on weekends against only 18 per cent opposed, though how much higher exactly remains a subject for further investigation.

UPDATE (16/4): This week’s Essential Research has the Coalition’s two-party lead narrowing from 57-43 to 56-44, from primary votes of 48% for the Coalition (down two), 31% for Labor (steady) and 11% for the Greens (steady). Also featured are Essential’s monthly personal ratings, which have Julia Gillard’s approval steady at 32% and her disapproval down three to 58%, Tony Abbott’s respectively up two to 38% and down two to 50%, and Gillard’s lead as preferred prime minister shifting from 40-37 to 38-36. Support for the National Broadband Network is up a point since February to a new high of 57% with opposition down three to 22%, and 46% saying they will either definitely or probably sign up for it. There is also a question on appropriate areas for federal and state responsibility, with the states only coming out heavily on top for public transport and “investing in regional areas”.

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