A quarter of voters believe Australia has a higher national debt than other developed countries, polling from Essential Research reveals, and primarily blame the government’s poor economic management for it.

Last week Essential asked a series of questions around perceptions of the economy and the budget. On the size of Australia’s debt, 9% of voters think our debt is a lot higher than other developed countries’; 16% believe it is higher. Based on OECD data from 2010, Australia’s debt, at around 11% of GDP, was third lowest in the OECD and one-fifth of the OECD average of over 55%. Only 19% of voters correctly identified that it was a lot lower than other developed countries. Liberal voters were more inclined to believe we have a higher debt than elsewhere, with 33% of Liberal voters believing we have a higher debt than other developed countries.

And 46% of voters blamed the government’s poor economic management for debt levels; 46% also thought it was more important to reduce debt than maintain spending levels. In fact, 55% thought the best way to reduce debt was to reduce spending, compared to 13% who preferred to see taxes rise. However, there was a strong view that companies and high income earners don’t pay enough tax: 62% thought mining companies didn’t pay enough; 60% thought high income-earners don’t pay enough and 63% thought large companies should pay more. However, 43% thought small businesses paid too much.

But despite blaming the government for high debt levels, 39% of voters thought the government had managed the economy well compared to governments overseas, compared to 32% who thought they managed it poorly. There was a strong partisan dimension to those responses — 58% of Liberal voters thought the government had managed the economy poorly compared to overseas governments; 26% of Labor voters thought the government’s management was “very good”.

However, despite such negative views of Labor’s economic management, Joe Hockey doesn’t dominate comparisons with Wayne Swan — 35% of voters trust Hockey more than Swan in handling the economy, compared to 32% who trust Swan over Hockey. Only 4% of Labor voters trust Hockey, while 9% of Liberal voters trust the Treasurer.

There’s also been a rise in support for same-s-x marriage as the issue continues to garner attention at the federal level (the poll results were nearly all before Tony Abbott’s weekend announcement that he expected the issue wouldn’t be addressed in the next Parliamentary term). Some 58% of voters now support same-s-x marriage compared to 54% last month (the highest level Essential has yet recorded). Opposition fell a point to 32%, with “don’t knows” shifting to support. Liberal voters still remain the most hostile to gay marriage, but now 49-43% of Liberal voters support it.

On voting intention, the Coalition has remained steady on 48%, Labor has dropped a point to 33% and the Greens remain on 9%, shaking out to a two-party preferred outcome of 56-44%.

Peter Fray

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