Australians acknowledge our relative economic health compared to the rest of the world, but wouldn’t trust Labor to lead us out of another economic downturn, new polling from Essential Research shows.

The weekly Essential Report, surveying 1029 voters online, will come as a bitter blow to a beleaguered federal government, with its primary vote not yet bottoming out and suggestions it will struggle to receive any credit for steering the economy away from recession.

Most voters recognise the economy has performed better than other countries over the past few years — though fewer believe that now than nine months ago. Around 66% of voters say the economy has performed better — down 70% from August 2011 — and even 60% of Coalition voters acknowledge Labor’s time in office has kept the economy moving faster than the rest of the world.

But few voters trust Labor to do it again. Asked which party they trust to deal with another global financial crisis, most voters picked the Liberal Party (42%) over Labor (25%). Support for the government’s economic management has collapsed this year — asked the same question in August 2011, Labor recorded support of 31% compared to the Liberals on 40%.

“The only demographic groups trusting the Labor Party more were aged 18-24 (Labor 37%/Liberals 29%) and those earning less than $600pw (Labor 41%/Liberals 32%),” Essential noted.

Labor’s primary vote fell another two points compared to last week, now nine points down on its election-winning tally of 38%. The Liberals picked up a point in primary voting, washing out to another point gain in the two-party preferred tally: 58% for the Coalition, 42% for Labor.

Confidence in the direction of the economy has improved. The percentage of respondents believing conditions to be getting better jumped nine points to 25%, from just 16% in October last year. Those believing economic conditions will worsen over the next 12 months has fallen 12 points from 58% to 46%.

Essential also has bad news for Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson. It asked: “In general, if a politician is accused of an offence, do you think they should stand down from the positions they hold or should they be allowed to continue in their positions until a decision is made about their guilt or innocence?” More than 60% of respondents said they should stand down; just 27% believe they should be allowed to continue in their positions.

Where Labor could be on some solid ground is in banking regulation — a series of questions on toughening regulation and capping salaries were overwhelmingly supported by Essential’s panel. The vast majority of voters say the government should intervene on executive remuneration, to tie Reserve Bank interest rate decisions to retail rates and to ensure bank fees aren’t higher than the cost of service.

They like the idea of taxing banks based on the “super” profits, like Labor’s new mining tax arrangements. And there’s even support for a government-owned bank …

Peter Fray

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