Voter sentiment on the economy has turned sharply negative, and there is little confidence in Treasurer Joe Hockey’s capacity to manage it, today’s Essential Report shows. And voters increasingly favour a stronger Renewable Energy Target as the major parties negotiate to weaken it.

Voter assessment of the state of the economy is now the worst since at least 2012, with just 27% of voters willing to describe it as very good or good, while 36% rate it poor or very poor. That marks a significant turnaround since August last year, when 37% of voters rated the economy good and just 26% rated it poor. It’s the first time since 2012 that voters have been net negative on the state of the economy.

What’s significant about the reversal is that it isn’t merely among Labor/Greens voters. Inviting voters to assess the economy invariably invites a partisan response — supporters of the party in opposition tend to say the economy is worse than supporters of the party in government. This result is no different: Labor voters split 28%/34% and Greens voters split 28%/33%, while Liberal voters split 33%/28%. But all three voter groups have changed since August, when Labor voters split 36%/33%, Greens voters split 41%/18% and Liberals split 44%/19%. Even Liberal voters are now markedly more negative about the economy than last year.

And Joe Hockey is not the man to turn this sentiment around: voters disapprove of the job he is doing 51%-27%.

That Hockey’s standing with voters has collapsed even further than its post-budget nadir augurs badly for the government’s efforts to reset its economic and fiscal narrative — confused enough as they have been in recent weeks with an intergenerational report that few voters had heard much of and completely contradictory signals from the Prime Minister about what the government is trying to do. Hockey himself has tried to initiate a debate about longer-term issues like superannuation, only to be criticised for thought bubbles, as the government prepares the 2015 budget, tipped to be the last set piece Abbott/Hockey will be permitted before they are politically executed. And Hockey’s lead over Labor’s Chris Bowen in terms of trust to handle the economy has vanished: it was 34%-23% even last August, despite the budget, but is now 26%-25%.

And there’s more bad news for the Abbott government — and for Labor — as voters’ views about the Renewable Energy Target continue to shift. Between February and July last year, voters’ support for a stronger target increased. In February 2014, 25% of voters thought the current target of 20% renewables by 2020 was “too low”; that increased to 29% in July. Now, 33% of voters believe the target is too low. Those who say it is too high have fallen from 13% to 8%. Those who say the current target is about right have fallen from 39% to 36% to 32%, meaning that more voters now want the target increased than want it kept at its current level.

The result is bad not merely for the government, which has been trying to remove the target since it got into office, but for Labor as well, which has resisted the government’s efforts to wreck the renewables industry but agreed to support some form of reduction in the current target.

On voting intention, a big shift away from the government, with Labor’s vote increasing two points to 41% and the Greens up a point to 10%, while the Coalition remains on 40%, for a two-party preferred outcome of 54%-46% in Labor’s favour, up from 52%-48% last week. And the Palmer United Party continues its Incredible Shrinking Party performance: it is now down to 1% in the wake of Glenn Lazarus’ resignation.

Peter Fray

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