War in Iraq and a focus on national security have certainly been a boon for the Prime Minister: today’s Essential Report shows his personal approval ratings have lifted significantly over the last two months, reversing the deep damage the government’s ill-fated budget did to him in the eyes of voters. Abbott is now comfortably preferred PM over Bill Shorten, and has a net disapproval rating in single figures, rather than in the 20s, as he did in July. All good news for Abbott, and evidence of why the government has been so keen to focus on matters outside Australia in recent weeks.

A vignette from the data, however: Abbott’s improvement hasn’t been at the expense of Bill Shorten or Labor. Shorten’s approval ratings remain unchanged, and are still better than Abbott’s, and Shorten has even lifted in the eyes of Coalition voters, nearly a quarter of whom approve of his performance. And Labor’s primary vote remains at 39%, suggesting the lift in voting intention the Coalition has obtained in recent weeks is coming not from its opponents but from the minor parties and Clive Palmer’s supporters.

The G20 meeting in November — whether or not the Prime Minister decides to “shirt-front” the Russian President — will enable the Coalition to maintain the focus on international issues for some time yet and give Abbott further opportunities to burnish his statesmanship credentials. The only problem is, it can’t remain focused offshore forever, and there’s a very long way to go til the next election. The Coalition brains trust is no doubt working out how to get its domestic agenda back on track while voters are focused elsewhere.

Peter Fray

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