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Australians support same-sex marriage by a margin of about two to one, today’s Essential Report finds, but 40% of voters say it makes no difference to how they’d vote.

Fifty-nine per cent of voters support allowing same-sex marriage, the same level as in February, compared to 55% in December and 60% in June 2014; 30% oppose it, compared to 28% in February and 32% in December. Greens voters support it 93%-3%; Labor 70%-21% and Coalition voters 49%-38%. Women are more strongly in favour of same-sex marriage, 64% to 25%, compared to men — 54%-34%.

However, it makes no difference to 40% of voters what the position of a candidate or party is on the issue.

Coalition voters are the ones most unlikely to change their vote for pro-same-sex marriage candidates, while 46% of Labor voters are a little or a lot more likely to vote for a candidate or party supporting same-sex marriage. Just 15% of all voters say they are much less likely to vote for a supporter of same-sex marriage, and 19% of Liberal voters. This appears to discredit the argument put forward by hardline same-sex marriage opponent Cory Bernardi, who has warned that there would be “huge consequences” for the Liberal party if it backed same-sex marriage in opposition to the party base. In fact, barely a fifth of Liberal voters are likely to change their vote, and those opposed to same-sex marriage are unlikely to switch to Labor, the only voting choice where their vote is unlikely to flow back to the Liberals.

Tony Abbott has improved in the eyes of voters since February, according to Essential’s periodic leader attribute question. In the areas out of touch, erratic and a capable leader, Abbott has improved noticeably since February, though only back to his level in December. So, in December, 66% of voters thought Abbott out of touch; that rose to 72% in February but is now back to 65%. Fifty-two per cent thought Abbott erratic in December, 60% in February and 54% this week. Thirty per cent thought him trustworthy in December; 27% thought it in February, 31% think it now.

Bill Shorten, however, has drifted slightly lower overall — flat on arrogant (39%) and trustworthy (33%); lower on capable leader (43%), down on understanding the problems facing Australia (49%). However, he retains a lead over Abbott in nearly every attribute: he betters the Prime Minister by between 20 and 30 points on narrow-minded, intolerant, out of touch, erratic and aggressive, and more than 10 points on intelligent, understands the problems facing Australia and superficial.

On voting intention, the Coalition remains on 41% and Labor has picked up a point to 40%; the Greens remain on 10% for an unchanged two-party preferred outcome of 52%-48% to Labor.

Three weeks after the budget, we’re thus able to conclude that there’s been no budget bounce for the government in voting intention, but that Tony Abbott has recovered in the estimation of voters — back to where he was in December 2014, which leaves him poorly regarded. Nearly two-thirds of voters believe the Prime Minister is out of touch; 62% believe he is arrogant, while 38% think he understands the problems of Australia. If Coalition strategists think embracing populism and abandoning economic reform was worth it for a 4% 2PP gap and voter dislike, then good luck to them.

Essential also asked about foreign aid. In 2015-16, Australia will spend just under 1% of its budget on foreign aid. Asked how much they think Australia spends, 24% of voters said either less than 1% or 1%. But 14% think we spend 2%, 10% think we spend 5% of the budget on foreign aid and 9% think we spend more than 5%. More than 40% of voters say they don’t know. And 44% of voters think we spend too much on foreign aid, despite repeated cuts under both sides of politics in recent years; just 16% say they think we don’t spend enough. That compares to 42% and 16% in 2011. The Pacific and Papua New Guinea are voters’ priorities for foreign aid, with 66% and 65% saying aid there is very or somewhat important, compared to 39% saying Indonesia was important. African and south-east Asian countries rated as 50% important.

Peter Fray

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