Labor’s reputation on key policy issues has significantly deteriorated with voters, today’s Essential Report finds, and the leadership issue is emerging as another key negative as the party faces the final sitting weeks of the year.

Labor’s primary vote has slipped a point to 35%, ending the fairly small recovery it has enjoyed in recent weeks. The Coalition remains on 47% and the Greens on 8%, leaving the two-party preferred outcome at 54%-46%.

Last week, Essential asked its semi-regular questions around issues that most influences voters, and the results are a marked change from what has been a relatively steady set of outcomes for that question for several years. Whereas economic management has traditionally scored over 60% as an influential issue, that has fallen to 47%. The next most influential issue, health, has also fallen, from 52% in February to 45% now. Australian jobs and protection of local industries, which also traditionally scored highly, fell from 40% to 34%. And education, which at one point in 2012 was rated as an important issue by a third of voters, has fallen to 25% despite the government’s focus on the Gosnki reforms.

What’s increased? Political leadership has gone from 14% in February back to 22%. Treatment of asylum seekers has nearly doubled from 6% to 11%.

Moreover, the Coalition’s lead as the party trusted to handle these issues has increased, often significantly, and on those few issues where Labor led, its lead has shrunk. On economic management, the Coalition now leads Labor by 18 points, up from 15 points in February. The Coalition’s lead on Australian jobs and protection of local industries — traditionally an issue that Labor owned — has extended from 3 to 7 points. Labor’s tiny lead on education has gone from 2% to 1% despite the remorseless focus on education; it now trails the Coalition by 5 points on health, up from 3, the Coalition’s lead on asylum seekers has increased 5 points to 22 points. Despite interest rates returning to record lows, the Coalition’s lead on controlling interest rates has extended to 17 points. And the Coalition’s lead on political leadership has increased from 8 points in February to 19 points now.

On nearly all of these issues, Labor picked up ground, sometimes significant ground, on the Coalition throughout the second half of 2012. But all of that work has now been undone, or worse.

Essential also asked how voters voted in 2010 compared to their current voting intention; 12% of voters currently intending to vote for the Coalition voted for Labor in 2010, or 8% of all voters. Some 22% of voters currently intending to vote for the Greens voted for Labor in 2010, though 4% of those intending to vote Labor voted Green in 2010.

Peter Fray

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