Voters are increasingly concerned about the direction of the Australian economy and expect the budget on May 14 to be bad for them, today’s Essential Report indicates.

The view that the Australian economy is headed in the right direction has fallen to 36%, compared with 43% last June. And while partisanship strongly colours voters’ responses to that question, with Liberal voters far more likely to see the economy as performing poorly, Labor’s vote last June was not significantly different to what it is currently, meaning the fall reflects widespread sentiment rather than changed voting intention. Some 38% of voters expect the budget will be bad for them personally, compared with only 12% who think it will be good, with 38% believing it will be neutral for them.

When asked about measures to increase revenue or cut spending, however, we get a clue as to why Opposition Leader Tony Abbott might be ready to stick with his plan to lift taxes on  medium-sized and large companies to fund his paid parental leave scheme. Some 64% of voters favour higher taxes for corporations as a way to increase revenue, the most strongly supported revenue or spending change of those proposed.

Reducing tax breaks for high-income earners was backed 45-38%, but middle-class welfare cuts in areas such as the Baby Bonus and Family Tax Benefit payments weren’t popular, with only 37% support compared with 48% opposition. Cutting defence spending (35%-48%), cutting NBN spending (34%-45%), postponing the Gonski education reforms (29%-51%), cutting unemployment and disability benefits (25%-60%) and cutting other infrastructure spending were all disliked.

One area where there does appear to be relative unanimity among voters regardless of political preference is on population: 45% of voters believe our current population growth rate is too high, with voters varying between 41% among Labor voters and 50% among Liberal voters. Only 5% think our rate of population growth is too slow. Meanwhile 37% of voters think it’s about right, with Greens voters the least likely to think it’s OK at 32%.

And in the wake of Qantas’ controversial link-up with Emirates, Essential asked about views of the airline. Some 18% of voters said they felt more negatively about Qantas than 12 months ago, and 18% said more positively than 12 months ago, a big change from February 2012 when, in the months after Qantas boss Alan Joyce’ declaration of war on Qantas unions, 41% of voters said they were more negative about the airline. Meanwhile 34% of voters said they usually tried to fly Qantas when they travelled, compared with 20% who said they tried to avoid it.

On voting intention, it’s steady state, with no significant shifts on primary vote for the second week in a row. The Coalition is on 48%, Labor on 34% and the Greens on 9% for a two-party preferred outcome of 55-45% in the Coalition’s favour.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey