Voters are evenly split on the parliamentary Liberal Party’s decision not to dump Tony Abbott as leader, but few voters want Abbott as Prime Minister at the next election, Essential Report’s weekly poll shows.

Voters were evenly split on whether the Liberals were right to stick with Abbott, with 40% each approving and disapproving of the failure of the spill motion to go ahead. However, that result strongly reflects voting intention, with Liberal voters strongly approving and other voters disapproving. Twenty-one per cent of Labor voters approve of the spill not going ahead, although that presumably includes Labor voters keen for the politically toxic Abbott to remain as leader. Eighteen per cent of Liberal voters disapproved of the spill not going ahead. However, 39% of all voters, including 14% of Liberal voters, want Tony Abbott replaced as soon as possible, while 22% favour him being given six months to turn things around.

In any event, 61% of voters believe it is unlikely Abbott will lead the Liberals to the next election, an increase of 10 points since December.

There was some good news for the government on the question of which party is trusted to handle issues best. Forty two per cent of voters trust the Coalition to manage the economy well compared to 25% who trust Labor — with that difference of 17 points having increased since June last year, when it was 13 points. The government’s lead on national security has also increased from 16 points to 19 points. Labor’s leads on education and health both reduced by five points and three points, respectively, although Labor still holds a 10-point lead on both.

Voters are split on where to build the next generation of Royal Australian Navy submarines, with 37% saying they should be built here regardless of cost, including 42% of Labor voters and 33% of Coalition voters; 34% say they should be built here if the cost is similar or less than building them offshore, and 12% say they should only be built here if it is cheaper than offshore. Unsurprisingly, 60% of South Australians thought they should be built here regardless of the cost.

And there’s some good news for advocates of mass surveillance: approval of the government’s data retention proposal has edged up a point to 40% since August, but opposition has fallen seven points to 44%. Younger voters, Labor and Greens voters are strongly opposed to data retention, while Liberal voters and the elderly support it.

On voting intention, no change from last week. The Coalition is on 39%, Labor on 41%, the Greens are on 10%, and the two-party preferred outcome is 54%-46%.

Peter Fray

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