The Prime Minister’s personal approval rating with voters has plumbed new depths, today’s Essential Report shows, with even Liberal voters souring on him.

Just 29% of voters approve of Tony Abbott’s performance, while 62% disapprove, a negative net approval level of 33 points, a new record for a leader who has never performed well on personal approval. Abbott scored 37%/53% in January, before the knighting of the Queen’s husband unleashed turmoil around his leadership. It’s Liberal voters who have shifted in interim — in January, just 10% of Liberal voters disapproved of Abbott’s performance, but now 29% of Liberal voters disapprove. Abbott’s net disapproval rating among women is 40 points, 24%-64%.

However, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also gone backwards, albeit nowhere near as quickly. After an unusually strong set of numbers in January — 39% approval, 33% disapproval — Shorten has returned to the sort of negative territory — 33%/38% — that he occupied for much of 2014. However, he has extended his lead as preferred prime minister from 2 points in January to 39% to Abbott’s 31%.

On voting intention, the Coalition has regained a point on its primary vote (39%) while Labor remains on 41%; the Greens are up a point to 10%. The two-party preferred outcome remains the same, 54%-46% to Labor.

Voters back Abbott’s decision to abandon his paid parental leave policy last week, 59% to 25%, with Liberal voters being the strongest in support of the decision, even though it was a broken promise by Abbott. Some 73% of Liberal voters supported dumping the policy, compared to 55% of Labor voters.

There’s also been a slight softening in support for data retention, with 38% of voters agreeing that “governments having access to personal telephone and internet information is necessary to protect society from terrorist or criminal actions”, while 44% agree that “governments are increasingly using the argument about terrorism to collect and store personal data and information, and this is a dangerous direction for society”. In November, the figures were 41% and 44%, respectively.

Essential also asked about attitudes toward privatisation, illustrating the extent of voter antipathy toward government asset sales.

In short, voters don’t buy the arguments in favour of privatisation and see only negatives associated with it. They don’t believe it’s good for the economy, they don’t accept that it frees up money to invest elsewhere, they don’t accept that the private sector can run things better than governments, and they believe that the benefits of privatisation primarily flow to the corporate sector and not consumers. And they tend to feel such things quite strongly — 34% strongly agree that prices always rise after privatisation; 40% strongly agree utilities are too important to be sold off.

Peter Fray

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