Julia Gillard has received a lift in voter approval in today’s Essential Report. However, Labor’s ratings don’t seem to have benefitted from the same good fortunes.

The Prime Minister’s approval rating rose four points to 35%, with her disapproval rating down three points, at 54%. But Tony Abbott has recorded his worst net disapproval rating, with disapproval up four points to 55% and approval down four points to 32%. This figure also marks the first time since January that Abbott has had a higher net disapproval rating than the Prime Minister.

The PM also reversed the Opposition Leader’s lead last month as preferred Prime Minister, with Gillard on 40% (up four points on last month) and Abbott down one point to 37%.

Despite Australia’s role in Afghanistan being discussed  again last week following the loss of five soldiers, opinions on our military presence in the nation hardly seem to have changed over the past six months. This month, 62% of people believe we should withdraw troops from Afghanistan, compared to 64% in March, while 23% believe we should maintain our current presence, and only 4% believe we should increase the number of troops.

The continual focus on the HSU and CFMEU industrial disputes seems to had an impact on voters’ perspective on unions, with 45% believing that unions have been good for working people, down from 48% in March, while 20% believe that unions have been bad for working people (compared to 17% in March). Likewise, only 52% of people believe that unions are important for Australian working people today, compared to 56% in March, while 38% believe they are not important (compared to 35% in March). Overall, 39% of people believe workers would be better off if Australian unions were stronger, while 30% of people believe workers would be worse off. Inevitably, partisanship strongly features in responses, with Liberal voters far more dismissive of the contribution of unions.

The introduction of a carbon price is the only major Labor reform with net voter opposition, Essential found. Only 28% of voters thought the introduction of a carbon price was good for Australia, with 51% rating it bad — indeed, 35% of voters rated it “very bad”. Otherwise, support for Labor reforms seems to split into three: highly contested reforms that have majority support, such as the mining tax (supported 49-25%); the NBN (43-28%) and the abolition of WorkChoices (42-27%); mid-tier reforms with widespread approval — paid parental leave (52-20%); stimulus spending during the GFC (54-22% – the BER program is supported 53-20%); accepting the recommendations of the Houston panel on asylum seekers (45-15%) and paid parental leave 52-20%.

Then there are the reforms with very high support: lifting the age pension (70-11%); increasing super to 12% (68-9%); lifting the tax-free threshold to $18,200 (75-4%); the NDIS (58-5%); marine reserves (controversial in some areas but with 67-8% support); dental care (77-5%) and the Gonski education reforms (54-8%).

Voting intention showed almost no change from last week’s figures: Coalition 47%, Labor 34%, Greens 9%. 2PP also reported no change, with the Coalition at 55% and Labor at 45%.