Voters continue to disapprove of Tony Abbott’s performance at near-record levels as the Prime Minister’s slump-within-a-slump continues, today’s Essential Report shows.

Abbott’s approval rating has edged up from 31% to 33% since March, but his disapproval rating has also gone up two points to 58%, meaning the Prime Minister has maintained his second-worst level of net approval, -25, from March, second only to the -33 he recorded in February when he faced a leadership spill motion.

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has recorded his worst net approval rating, with 33% of voters approving of his performance (down one) and 42% (up three) disapproving. Shorten still leads Abbott as preferred prime minister, 35% to 32%, down from 37%-33% in March. As previously, Abbott performs noticeably worse among women than men, while Shorten has no significant gender differences in his numbers.

After recovering from the absolute nadir that caused much of his backbench to vote to spill his position, the Prime Minister’s negative rating has recovered — but only to the terrible level it reached in the wake of the 2014-15 budget. The numbers suggest Abbott’s repeat-playing of the national security card, which briefly lifted his numbers back to low negatives in September through November, has failed to achieve the same result. In the aftermath of the leadership spill motion, Abbott attacked the Muslim community, demanded Labor pass draconian mass surveillance laws and foreshadowed further crackdowns on free speech.

Bill Shorten, however, has been unable to capitalise on Abbott’s poor performance, and after briefly lifting his numbers into positive territory at the start of the year has now slipped to his lowest level as opposition leader, although he has led Abbott as preferred prime minister now for five months.

On voting intention, the Coalition has lifted a point to 41%, while Labor remains on 39% and the Greens on 10%, for a two-party preferred outcome of 52%-48% in Labor’s favour.

Voter views on asylum seekers appear to be shifting, but in rather confusing ways. Some 32% of voters think most asylum seekers arriving by boat are “genuine refugees”, whereas 43% think most of them aren’t. That’s a small shift from 30% and 47% in January last year. But 21% of voters think everyone arriving by boat should be sent back to the country they came from regardless of whether they are genuine refugees, down from 26% in January last year; 49% say genuine refugees should be allowed to stay, up from 46%; 16% say genuine refugees should be resettled elsewhere and 3% say anyone who arrives should be allowed to stay, both relatively unchanged.

However, 27% of voters say the government is “too soft” on asylum seekers, up from 23% in January this year, despite revelations of sexual abuse and child abuse in Australia’s offshore processing centres. The number of Australians saying the government is too tough has fallen from 26% to 22%.

And voters don’t like the idea of politicians who leave their parties staying in Parliament, with 60% saying they should either leave to make way for a candidate selected by a new election (a proposition that would alarm governments, especially in the Senate) or by the parties themselves — although “other” voters are less impressed with the idea of allowing parties to replace them.

Peter Fray

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