Tony Abbott’s time with a net approval rating from voters has proved fleeting, with the Prime Minister ending his stay in positive territory with a rise in voter disapproval, new polling from Essential Research reveals.

The poll has Abbott’s approval rating on 45%, steady since November, and his disapproval up six points to 46%. Abbott had been in positive territory since becoming Prime Minister. More women disapprove of his performance (49%), with men on 43%; some 33% of other/independent voters approve of his performance, compared to 47% who disapprove.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, in contrast, has strengthened his net approval rating as voters shift from undecided to having a view on his performance. Some 39% approve of Shorten’s performance and 31% disapprove, compared to 31%-27% in November; “don’t knows” have fallen from 43% to 31%. Interestingly, 22% of Liberal voters approve of his performance, but other/independent voters rate him poorly, 24%-44%. Shorten has net approval with both men and women and is also steadily reducing Abbott’s lead as preferred prime minister. Abbott led him by nearly 20 points in October, with undecideds on 37%; by November that had fallen to a lead of 15 points with undecideds down to 31%, and now Abbott leads 43%-33% with “don’t knows” on 24%; Shorten appears to have converted most undecideds to him, at least for the moment.

On voting intention, the Coalition remains on 44% while Labor has picked up another point to be on 37%. The Greens are on 8%; the Palmer United Party is up a point to 5% and others/independent are on 7%. The two-party preferred outcome is down from 52%-48% to 51%-49%.

Education has been the key stumbling block for the government in the last fortnight, and Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s bungling of the Gonski reform issue appears to have told against the Coalition. Fully 50% of voters disapprove of the government’s handling of education issues, including 52% of other/independent voters and even 15% of Liberal voters. Women are particularly unhappy: 53% of women disapprove, with 28% who approve, compared to 45%-43% for men. On who will benefit from the government’s education funding, 26% say only private schools will be better off and 22% believe no schools will be better off; virtually no one, not even Liberal voters, think only public schools will be better off; 26% believe all schools will be better off. The Coalition trails Labor on trust to ensure a quality education for all children by 33% to 36%

Finally, a small example of just how flexible voters can be. In October 2011, Essential asked voters to indicate which was closer to their own view:

When a politician makes a statement or commitment they should stick to it no matter what; or
As situations change, it is reasonable that politicians change their positions; or
Politicians almost always lie — it’s naive to think otherwise.

Back then, when Julia Gillard was prime minister and the subject of savage abuse over the carbon price, 21% of Liberal voters thought politicians should stick to their commitments no matter what, 36% thought it was OK for politicians to change their positions and 43% thought politicians always lie. But only 12% of Labor voters thought politicians should stick to their commitments no matter what while 65% thought it was OK for them to change their position.

Last week Essential repeated the question, and a strange metamorphosis had taken place. It was still the case that 21% of Liberal voters thought politicians should always stick to their positions, but now 62% thought it was reasonable that they should change. In contrast, only 25% of Labor voters now think it’s OK for politicians to change their positions, while 34% think they never should. And only 16% of Liberal voters now think politicians always lie, compared to 41% of Labor voters. Greens voters appeared to undergo a similar transformation in their views.

In short, when your own side is in power, you’re a lot more willing to cut them some slack on how they operate, and a lot less cynical about politics generally.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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