Voters’ approval of the government’s handling of major issues has deteriorated further while Labor holds a commanding lead, today’s Essential Report polling shows.

Repeating a feature of the Rudd government from 2009-10, the Abbott government’s standing with voters in relation to major issues has deteriorated markedly, and that deterioration has continued in recent months. “Relations with foreign countries” is now the only issue on which the government has a net positive rating from voters, with 33% saying its handling has been good and 28% saying its handling has been poor. A year ago, the government had a positive net approval on two issues — handling of asylum seekers and managing the economy — and its net approval on relations with foreign countries was just -3 (i.e. voter perceptions of the government’s handling of foreign relations relations has improved in the last 12 months). But by September, the government had deteriorated on every issue except foreign relations; across 11 major issues, its net approval rating had gone from a total of -98 to -171. Since September, that outcome has worsened to -195.

Particularly concerning for the government is its deterioration on the most influential issues for voters — managing the economy, health, education and jobs. It has gone from a positive score on the economy last February to -14; it has gone from -13 on health (health is traditionally a Labor issue) to -31, reflecting the disaster of its attacks on Medicare; it has gone from -7 on education to -24, showing what a debacle its higher education reform proposals have been. The only silver lining is on “supporting Australian jobs”, where voters had a very poor opinion of the government a year ago and it has only marginally worsened since then.

One issue where the government should have a strong rating from voters is on asylum seekers arriving by boat. In a separate question, 38% of voters rate the government’s handling good, compared to 36% who rate it as poor, though that’s down from 41%-35% in July. Predictably, voting intention splits responses: Liberal voters strongly approve of the government’s handling, while Greens voters strongly disapprove. Labor voters are much more split: 22% approve while 53% disapprove. Men and older voters are also more likely to approve of the government’s asylum seeker policies. But another question illustrates the mixed views of Labor voters better. Asked if the government’s handling of asylum seekers is too hard, too soft or the right approach, overall 26% of voters believe the government is too tough, 23% say too soft and 35% say it’s the “right approach”.

The proportion of voters saying the government is too soft has actually increased since last July, while a quarter of Labor voters think the government is too soft and another 19% believe it’s the right approach, illustrating the limited room for Labor to move on the issue.

On voting intention, Labor is up a point to 41% and the Coalition down a point to 39%. The Greens are down a point on 9%; the two-party preferred outcome is 54%-46% in Labor’s favour, up from 53%-47% last week.

Essential also asked voters about their renewable energy usage. Some 27% of voters say their household has solar roof panels; 17% say they have solar hot water (the level averages out at around the 22% level of penetration identified in a study last year). Voting intention appears to have no impact on the issue, with Labor, Greens and Liberal voters all indistinguishable on solar panels, only separated by four points on solar hot water and Greens voters only a little more likely to use a “green energy” option from power companies. Queenslanders and older voters are more likely to have rooftop solar than the rest of us. Some 14% and 10% of voters respectively say they are considering solar panels or solar hot water.

Peter Fray

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