The smear campaign against the Prime Minister over her involvement in a union scandal in the early 1990s appears to have had some success, with Julia Gillard's run of improving approval ratings coming to an end in polling from Essential Research.
The Prime Minister's net disapproval rating increased by 8 points, with her approval rating falling from 41% in November to 37%, and her disapproval rating up from 49% to 53%. Female voters in particular shifted negatively, with a previous 0 net approval rating among women becoming a -10 point rating.
Tony Abbott marked time on approval: he remains at 33% approval, but his disapproval rating fell 2 points to 56%, leaving him still positioned as the clear loser in voter approval. But the Prime Minister's margin as preferred PM has shrunk back into single figures, from 45-32% in November to 43-34%.
The newspaper industry may be on a winner with its campaign against any additional press regulation as a result of the Finkelstein inquiry. Some 44% of voters support the retention of the current newspaper regulatory arrangements (an industry-funded Australian Press Council); only 28% supported a new government-appointed body (there was a high Don't Know result, 28%). Only Greens voters (narrowly) supported a government-appointed body, 40-38%, with Liberal voters strongly opposed, 54-25%.
The electorate's antipathy toward privatisation emerged in a series of questions about energy usage and policy. Fifty-six percent of voters preferred state-owned electricity generation and distribution. And 49% of voters -- with minimal variation across voting intention -- thought the best way to reduce power bills was "regulation to limit profits of electricity distributors".
But partisanship tended to influence how they saw responsibility for energy prices. While 45% of all voters believed power companies were mainly responsible for energy prices, only 37% of Liberal voters thought they were and 40% of Liberal voters thought the federal government was mainly responsible for them, despite electricity regulation being a state issue. Only 16% thought state governments were mainly responsible for energy prices, suggesting the federal government still has some work to do to get across to voters the message that state governments have been complicit in price rises.
On voting intention, the 2PP outcome has stretched back out to 54-46% in the Coalition's favour. Labor's primary vote was down one, to 36%, and the Coalition's up one, to 48%. The Greens vote is down one to 8%, marking their poorest result since the 2010 election and well shy of the 12% they were regularly obtaining in 2011.