Tony Abbott has staged a comeback with voters and is now as well-regarded as he was in January, today’s Essential Report shows, although he still remains in deeply negative territory. But voters are backing the government’s pension arrangements.

Abbott’s performance is approved of by 36% of voters and disapproved of by 54% of voters, up 3 points/down 4 points since April. The result puts him about where he was at the start of the year, 37%/53%, before the knighthood debacle set off a period of leadership chaos within the Liberal Party. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has marked time, however, with 32% approval (down 1 since April) and 41% disapproval (down 1).

Shorten has also ceded his lead as preferred prime minister back to the incumbent for the first time since November, with Abbott leading Shorten 35%-32%, a reversal of April’s result.

The government’s move to cut access to the pension by wealthy retirees, announced ahead of the budget, has also been vindicated. Fifty-six per cent of voters approve of what in essence amounts to a reversal of the Howard government’s extension of the pension to high-income retirees, while just 30% oppose it. Most significantly, retirees themselves back it: support is strongest (70%) among over-55s; accordingly, support is stronger among Liberal voters (64%-24%) than others. The results suggest Scott Morrison is onto a winner in shifting pension savings from the deeply unpopular reduction in indexation to more rigorous tapering for high-income retirees.

And despite much speculation about Joe Hockey’s future in the Treasurer’s job, voters haven’t given up on him yet. Forty-eight per cent of voters disapprove of his performance compared to 30% who approve of it — but that’s an improvement from March when 51% disapproved and 27% approved, although still poorer than August last year.

He also leads shadow treasurer Chris Bowen on who is trusted to handle the economy 30%-22%, up from 26%-25% in March.

On voting intention, the Coalition is up a point on its primary vote to 41%, while Labor remains on 39%. The Greens, post-Christine Milne, are up a point to 11%, for a a two-party preferred outcome of 52%-48% in Labor’s favour, down from 53%-47% last week.

Peter Fray

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