Approval of Tony Abbott’s performance has plunged to its lowest level as Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has again opened up a lead as preferred Prime Minister, today’s Essential Report reveals, as the government ends the year in chaos and recrimination.

The Prime Minister’s approval with voters has slumped seven points from November to 32%, below his previous lowest level of 34%, and equal to his worst performance as opposition leader. Disapproval is up five points to 55%, for a net disapproval rating of 23 points. This includes 15% of Coalition voters, similar to the 16% of Coalition voters who disapproved of Abbott’s performance mid-year in the aftermath of the budget. Abbott’s net disapproval among women voters is a remarkable 34 points.

It caps off a dismal year for the Prime Minister that has seen him lurch deep into negative territory, with a brief international affairs-led recovery choked off by bungling embarrassment at his own G20 meeting and the government’s inability to convince voters or crossbench senators to support its agenda.

 

Bill Shorten’s approval ratings have drifted slightly lower this month, but at 35% (down two)/39% (up one), they’re about where they’ve been since mid-year — and his disapproval rating also includes 15% of Labor voters, but that’s around about average for Shorten. The Opposition Leader’s ratings since being elected after the 2013 election have been far more consistent than the Prime Minister’s.

However, Shorten now leads Abbott as preferred PM 36% to 31%, the first time he has led Abbott since September and his biggest lead yet.

Voters were also asked to rate the performance of senior politicians and party leaders throughout 2014. The only politician rated positively was Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, rated positively by 47% of voters and negatively by only 19%. Bill Shorten was rated 26%/31%; Tony Abbott 27%/49%; Christine Milne 16%/39% and Joe Hockey 22%/46%. Worst of the lot was Clive Palmer, rated positively by just 9%, while 59% rated him poorly.

How voters see 2014 illustrates at least one reason why the government is struggling. Asked to rate whether the year has been good or bad for different issues, 20% said the year had been good for the economy and 33% said bad — the same outcome as 2013, despite the Coalition’s promise that its election would spur economic confidence. And voters are still dismayed by politics — 12% say it’s been a good year for politics, compared to 65% who say it’s been a poor year. That net rating of -53 is lower than 2013, but that’s not saying a lot since it was -62 last year. But voters thought it had been a good year for large corporations, unlike 2013 — the net result there was 14, compared to -9 last year. They also thought it was a slightly less worse year for small business (-45 to -28), but they hadn’t changed their minds about how the average Australian fared (-22 to -23); employees thought their workplace had got worse (8 to -5) and “you and your family overall” went from 18 to 3.

Looking forward, voters split 23%/33% on whether 2015 would be good for the economy — the same net result as 2014; politics is expected to be worse (net 24% for 2014, 29% for next twelve months), worse for the average Australia (-9 to -17) and positive expectations for personal finances (6), workplaces (15) and “you and your family” (25) at the end of 2013 have been replaced with 0, 0 and 10. Only large corporations are expected to do better — at the end of 2013, voters were evenly split on whether 2014 would be good for large corporations, but now 30% think 2015 will compared to 17% who think it won’t be.

It’s a sour outcome: voters haven’t changed their minds about their negative expectations for the economy and don’t rate 2014 very highly in regard to their own circumstances, nor do they expect 2015 to be much better. The only group they identify as persistently doing well are large corporations, almost certainly reflecting voters’ view that the Coalition is closely aligned with the interests of big business. Nor has the profound disenchantment with politics been dispelled by this government. After spending 2013 watching Labor tear itself apart and waiting for the opportunity to throw them out, voters are hardly less hostile to politics after a full year of Tony Abbott.

On voting intention, the 2PP outcome is unchanged at 53%-47%. The Coalition is down a point to 39% and so is Labor; the Greens have recovered a point to 10%, and the PUP has hit a new low of 2%. At least Abbott will finish the year knowing he’s doing better than Clive Palmer.

Peter Fray

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