Despite a succession of poor election performances, voters are less hostile to the Greens than five months ago, new polling from Essential Report shows. Labor has also lifted its primary vote to within sight of its medium-term goal to be competitive at the next election.
A series of questions about the Greens shows that, while the party has not gained in voter approval, voters are no longer as opposed to them. In July, 17% of voters thought the Greens' performance in Parliament was good and 47% poor; 16% now say they think it has been good, but those saying it is poor have fallen to 40%, with a big increase in "don't knows" from 10% to 19%.
Predictably, Greens voters overwhelmingly believe the Greens' performance has been good, although 23% of Greens voters think their performance has been neither good nor poor. Twenty two per cent of Labor voters think it has been good compared to 27% poor, while Liberal voters overwhelmingly think it has been poor.
The proportion of voters who believe Greens' policies are too extreme has also fallen since July, from 53% to 47%; those who believe they represent the views of many voters has only shifted down 1 point, to 25%, and "don't knows" have again lifted from 21% to 28%.
Approval of the performance of Christine Milne as leader stands at 20% approval to 33% disapproval, but with a very high "don't know" response -- 47%.
The results suggest an unexplored consequence of Milne's ascension to the leadership following Bob Brown's retirement, which some have blamed for the Greens' poor electoral performance since: previously hard-and-fast views about the Greens are now more open to change with a new and, for most voters, unknown leader.
Essential also found cross-party, indeed almost uniform, support for the view that Australia's economic future depends on our engagement with Asian countries: 65% agree that it does and only 16% disagree; Liberal voters were slightly less inclined to strongly agree but still, overall, supported the view. There was also strong support for increasing our diplomatic and business connections with Asian countries, 62% verses 22%, but less support for making it a priority that students learn Asian languages: 50% of voters agree it should be a priority and 38% disagree. Sixty four per cent of Greens voters agree and only 26% disagree; Labor voters split 57%-29%; only Liberal voters are divided, with 46% agreeing and disagreeing.
Voters are also evenly split on uranium mining, with 41% approving of uranium exploration and mining and 41% not approving. But there's a major partisan split, with Liberal voters strongly in support, Greens voters strongly in opposition and Labor voters splitting 36% against and 47% for.
On voting intention, Labor's primary vote has shifted a point up to 37%, with the Coalition down two points to 46%. The Greens remain at 9%, with a 2PP result of 53-47% to the Coalition.
Labor peaked at 37% a month ago but then dropped back to 36%. The changes are fractional, but the sustained rise in Labor's primary vote from a few months ago has put it within sight of 38%, the level it secured at the 2010 election and the level that senior Labor figures believe will make them competitive going into an election year.
This is also the first week that the Coalition vote has dropped to 46% for 12 months (in fact, it was exactly one year ago). Essential has been something of an outlier among published polls for maintaining such a strong vote for the Coalition; if this is the beginning of a trend it will suggest Labor has started to achieve what appeared unlikely, indeed near impossible, just six months ago -- pull voters back not merely from the Greens but from the Coalition.