In the wake of Clive Palmer’s success in the Western Australian Senate election re-run, voters strongly support curbs on spending on political advertising, polling from Essential Research finds.

Asked about a limit on the amount political parties and candidates can spend on advertising in elections, 88% of voters support one, with voting intention making virtually no difference to the response. But voters also support a limit on third-party advertising during election campaigns …

Palmer massively outspent the major parties in WA and appears to have mastered the art of the late-campaign advertising blitz. He was rewarded with a Senate seat that ensures the Palmer United Party has the balance of power in the Senate in conjunction with Victorian senator-elect Ricky Muir, although support from other crossbench senators will also be needed by the government if Labor and the Greens oppose legislation.

Voters tend to see the PUP’s balance of power as bad for democracy, with 32% of voters viewing it negatively while 27% think the PUP’s role in the Senate is good for democracy (19% say it makes no difference). Labor voters are more finely balanced than others about Palmer’s power: 27% think it’s good for democracy and 29% bad, but Greens and the Liberals voters are — unusually — on a unity ticket: 21% of Greens and Liberals voters think the PUP’s role in the Senate is good for democracy, and 41% and 42% of them think it is bad.

Unsurprisingly, though, “other” voters — which include PUP voters — think it’s great, with 62% saying it’s good for democracy.

There is also strong support for Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s free trade agreement with Japan, with 52% of voters approving it and only 13% not. However, Coalition voters support it much more strongly: 68% of Coalition voters approve, 46% of Labor voters and 38% of Greens voters. Forty-nine per cent of voters think FTAs are generally good for Australia compared to 11% who think they’re not — up from 41% who approved of FTAs, in a different question, in 2011. Again, Coalition voters are generally more supportive than other voters, though Greens voters are more overtly hostile to them, with 20% saying they’re bad or very bad, while Labor voters are more likely to see them as neither good nor bad, with 22% doing so.

On voting intention, the Coalition primary vote has remained steady on 42% and Labor has dropped a point to 37%. The PUP is on 4% and the Greens are up one to 10%. (Just when Newspoll appeared to have lost its habit of overstating the Greens’ vote — last week they dropped to 11% on Newspoll — Nielsen appears to have acquired it, giving the Greens a remarkable 17% yesterday. That includes an absurd 27% in WA off a tiny sample, a figure some Fairfax journalists are still quoting as reliable today).

The two-party preferred outcome is now at 50:50, compared to 51:49 in Labor’s favour last week.

Peter Fray

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