Half of voters oppose the return of Australian troops to Iraq, today’s Essential report poll shows, while a mere 12% believe it will make Australia safer from terrorism.

Only 36% of voters approve of the dispatch of troops to Iraq to re-train Iraqi soldiers to fight Islamic State, with support strongest among Liberal voters, who approve 54%-35%. Labor voters disapprove 60%-28%. Men are evenly divided 45%-45%, but women strongly oppose the deployment, 55%-27%.

Some 47% of voters believe the return to Iraq won’t make any difference to Australian security while 30% believe it will make Australia less safe from terrorism; even more Coalition voters believe it will make us less safe than believe it will make us more safe.

The Prime Minister has marginally improved his standing with voters after February’s plunge: 31% of voters approve of his performance compared to 56% who disapprove, better than February’s 29%/62% but still his second-worst performances as Prime Minister and his equal second-worst performance as Liberal leader. And while Abbott’s rating is bad enough among men — 35%-54% — it is still diabolical among women, 28%-59%. Bill Shorten has marked time on voter approval with 34%-39%, compared with 33%-38% in February, but his lead as preferred PM over Abbott has been trimmed from 39%-31% to 37%-33%. Abbott and Shorten split nearly evenly as preferred PM but among women, Shorten leads 38%-29%.

And with the government facing difficulties with its own backbench on its planned reduction in indexation of aged pensions, retirees are considered the age group most deserving of more support. A sizeable 56% of voters think retirees don’t get enough government support, compared with 41% who think young adults don’t get enough support and 38% who think children don’t get enough support. Each age group tended to think it didn’t get enough support compared to others, though belief that kids don’t get enough support was more widespread.

There was little change on voting intention: Labor has lost a point to 40%; the Coalition remains on 40% and the Greens on 9%, for a two-party preferred outcome of 53%-47%.