Social class is alive and well in Australia, but few voters will admit to being “upper class”, today’s Essential Report finds. And Peter Costello gets the gong as Australia’s greatest ever treasurer.

Some  79% of voters agree social class exists in Australia; 31% deem themselves “working class”, and 49% describe themselves as “middle class”, but only 2% will admit to being “upper class”. Labor voters (36%) and other/Palmer United Party voters (38%) are more likely to nominate themselves as working class, whereas Greens (24%) and Liberals (27%) are less likely, though Liberal voters (58%) are the most likely to identify as middle class. Greens and other/PUP voters are also more likely to decline to describe themselves in class terms. But even voters earning over $1600 per week (3%) declined to refer to themselves as “upper class”, preferring “middle class” (64%).

Class also strongly affects how voters view the major political parties. About 41% of voters thought Labor mainly represented the interests of the working class — oddly enough — but 47% of voters thought the Liberal Party represented the interests not of the middle class but of the “upper class”. Unlike Labor voters, who agreed with Labor’s “working class” identification, Liberal voters preferred to see Liberal Party as representing the middle class (31%) or “all of them” (32%). But there was no such split among voters identifying as “working class” or “middle class” — both tended to see Labor as working class and the Liberals as upper class.

Both sides have strengthened their identification since April last year, when similar questions were asked: Labor’s identification as representing the “working class” went from 30% to 41%, while the Liberals’ identification as representing the “upper class” has lifted from 40% to 47%.

The parties have also shifted fortunes on voter perceptions since the budget. Asked which party represents the interests of the large corporate and financial interests, 59% of voters said the Liberals, compared to 9% Labor, an increase from the 41% gap that separated the parties on that question in May. Labor strengthened its lead on “being more concerned about the interests of working families in Australia than the rich and large business and financial interests” from 29 points to 32 points, but failed to make a dent on the Liberals’ 14 point lead on “handling the economy overall”.

There’s also good news for the Liberals on the question of who Australia’s greatest treasurer was: Peter Costello gets the gong, with 30%, compared to Paul Keating’s 23%, although “don’t know” is the big winner, on 35%; in the battle of the recent treasurers, Wayne Swan beats Joe Hockey, 8% to 5%. Apart from having the benefit of being treasurer within recent memory, Costello also benefited from great ambivalence from Greens voters, 52% of whom declared “don’t know” rather than endorse the more progressive Keating.

Voters are also ambivalent about Chinese investment, with 38% agreeing it is good for the Australian economy but 36% saying it isn’t. Liberal voters are the least xenophobic on the issue, splitting 50%-30%, whereas Labor voters (37%-34%) and Greens voters (34%-38%) are less enthusiastic; the result from other/PUP voters suggests Clive Palmer’s wild attack on Chinese investment last week played well to his party base: 52% say it is bad, compared to just 29% who say it is good.

On voting intention, both the Coalition (39%) and Labor (37%) have lost a point on their primary votes, while the Greens are up a point to 10%. The two-party preferred result is the same as last week, 52%-48% in Labor’s favour.