Two of the government’s biggest calls of the last two months have found favour with voters, polling from Essential Research shows, while there is surprising scepticism about the Coalition’s commitment to fiscal rigour.

Almost half — 48% — of voters approve of the Prime Minister identifying the September election date so far in advance, including 15% who “strongly approve”, with 34% disapproving. Responses split along partisan lines, with Labor voters overwhelmingly approving and Liberal voters least likely to approve; but even 35% of Liberal voters approved compared to 50% who did not.

There was also support, albeit narrower, for the government’s decision to back away from its commitment to a surplus in 2012-13, announced shortly before Christmas. Forty two per cent of voters back the government’s stance, compared to 37% who disapprove, with very strong partisanship in the responses: 64% of Labor voters approve; 57% of Liberal voters disapprove; 55% of Greens voters approve.

And this is in spite of the fact that if anything, voters now feel more strongly about the importance of a budget surplus, with 69% saying it was important for the country (up one point since October) and 54% saying it was important to them personally (up eight points).

But voters appear to be deeply sceptical of the Coalition’s determination to run a tighter fiscal policy than Labor. Despite persistent rhetoric from Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott that the Coalition would return to surplus more quickly and cut spending, only 19% of voters believe the Coalition will probably produce a surplus in its first year in office, while 60% say it probably won’t. That includes 52% of Liberal voters who don’t believe the party’s fiscally aggressive language, while 74% of Labor voters don’t believe they will post a surplus.

On voting intention, it’s more bad news for Labor: for the second week in a row its primary vote has fallen a point, and is now at 34%, with the Coalition steady on 48%. The Greens remain on 10%, for the same two-party preferred outcome of 54-46% in favour of the Coalition.