The focus on national security issues and a renewed war in Iraq have improved the Coalition’s standing significantly with voters, but it’s at the expense of the minor parties, with Labor’s vote undamaged, today’s Essential Report shows.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has surged to his best approval figures since April, before the budget-induced collapse of the Coalition’s fortunes. Some 40% of voters approve of Abbott’s performance, up five points since September, and 48% disapprove, down four points. That eight-point net disapproval level compares to a 24-point gap in July. Abbott has also kicked clear of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister and now leads 38% to 32%, compared to Shorten leading 36%-35% in September. Shorten’s own approval figures have remained unchanged, at 35% approval and 36% disapproval.

The Prime Minister’s improved approval ratings came from Labor voters (6% to 12% since September) and “other” voters (19% to 23%), as well as a lift to 87% among Coalition voters. Abbott also gained as preferred PM among “other voters” — Shorten led by 11 points in September but now only leads by one point. Interestingly, Shorten, who has strongly supported the government in its decision to rejoin the conflict in Iraq, also picked up among Coalition voters, moving from 22%-58% in September to 24%-53%, including a six-point fall in “strong disapproval” among Coalition voters.

The Coalition has also lifted in voting intention, up a point to 41% since last week, and up two points in the last four weeks. However, Labor’s primary vote has remained at 39% for three weeks; the small shift in voting intention to the Coalition appears to have come from “other”/Palmer United Party. voters: Clive Palmer’s party is now down to 3% and “others” are on 7%, compared to 4% and 9% four weeks ago. The Greens have also remained steady on 10%, meaning the two-party preferred outcome hasn’t shifted from last week’s 52%-48% Labor lead.

Essential also asked a series of questions about the gap between rich and poor in Australia. Some 72% of voters think the gap between rich people and everyone else has increased in the last decade, down from 77% in May. People on lower incomes are more likely than people on higher incomes to think the gap has grown, 81% to 67%, and Coalition voters are less likely to think it has increased than Labor or Greens voters. And 64% of voters, including 51% of Coalition voters, think the government should do a lot or something to reduce the gap, with just 7% saying it should do nothing at all. Voters on higher incomes were a little less likely than voters on lower incomes to want to see something done, but the difference was more around how much — 24% of higher-income voters wanted “a lot” done to reduce the gap, compared to 39% of lower-income earners.

Voters are also cynical about wealth in Australia. Some 56% of voters believe people are rich because they have had more advantages, compared to 28% who say it is because they have worked harder. People are more likely to attribute wealth to hard work as their income level increases, but even higher-income earners attribute wealth to advantage over hard work 52% to 34%; Coalition voters are the only ones who favour hard work, 45% to 41%. And 57% of voters want higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations to reduce the gap between rich and poor, compared to 18% who favour lower taxes to encourage investment economic growth.

Higher corporate taxes also top the list of measures voters want to see used to pay for the Iraq war and other threats to the budget bottom line. Further cuts to social services are the most strongly opposed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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