Voters are indifferent to claims about Julia Gillard’s involvement in the AWU scandal 20 years ago and rate her handling of it far ahead of the opposition and the media, new polling from Essential Research finds.

After a week of unremitting coverage in the last parliamentary week of the year, 31% of voters said they had heard a lot about the scandal and 29% said “some”; 37% said they’d heard little or nothing. And 39% of voters rated the Prime Minister’s handling of the issue as “good”, compared to 35% who rated it “poor”.

This was well ahead of the opposition, which repeatedly accused the Prime Minister of illegality last week and twice backed away from the claim. Coalition Senator and shadow Attorney-General George Brandis called the Prime Minister a “crook” inside Parliament but then refused to repeat the claim without parliamentary privilege. Twenty per cent of voters thought the opposition’s handling of the issue was good, but 49% thought it was poor, including 28% who thought it was “very poor”. Twenty per cent of voters thought the media had handled the matter well, while 37% thought it was poor; 36% thought it was neither good nor poor.

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Asked whether the issue had affected their view of the Prime Minister, 59% of voters said they either hadn’t changed their view or viewed her more positively; 38% viewed her more negatively as a result.

That outcome strongly follows party lines, confirming that to the extent that it gained any traction among voters, the smear campaign tended to confirming existing views rather than change them. Sixty-four per cent of Liberal voters said they viewed the Prime Minister more negatively; 89% of Labor voters said they viewed her the same or more positively, and 77% of Greens voters said the same. However, 35% of Liberal voters said it had no effect on their view of the Prime Minister.

There were also differences depending on the degree to which voters had paid attention to the issue. Voters who had heard a lot about the issue rated the Prime Minister’s handling of it poorly in net terms, compared to all voters, and more likely to say they viewed her more negatively as a result as well. This should give some hope to those continuing to push the smear campaign in the media and the opposition. However, those who had heard a lot about the matter were even more likely to view the opposition negatively as a result, and also more likely to rate the media’s performance poorly as well.

There’s better news for the Coalition on asylum seekers: Tony Abbott leads the Prime Minister in positive perceptions about handling of that issue. The Opposition Leader is regarded as a little more principled, more balanced, more responsible and more fair, but few voters believe either leader particularly matches those descriptions. Voters are more comfortable with words such as “stubborn” (Gillard 13%, Abbott 17%), “just playing politics” (Gillard 39%, Abbott 42%) and “populist” (13% and 11%). Interestingly given the incessant publicity about how cruel conditions are on Nauru, 32% of voters still believe Gillard is “too soft” on asylum seekers, compared to only 9% who believe that of Abbott.

Similar questions were asked in October 2011; the Prime Minister has significantly improved on “stubborn”, from 26% to 13%. And fewer people think Gillard is “too hard”, down from 10% to 6%, but the number of people who think she is “too soft” has increased from 21% to 32%.

On voting intention, Labor has edged up a point on its primary vote to 37% on Essential’s rolling fortnightly average, while the Greens have dropped a point to 9%. The Coalition is steady on 47% for an unchanged two-party preferred outcome of 53-47%.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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