Voters want Australia to adopt significantly stronger emissions reduction targets than the weak ones proposed by the government, today’s Essential Report shows, but the Coalition has lifted to its strongest position in a year.

There’s also strong support for the government’s “disposition” for a national vote on same-sex marriage — but voters want it sooner rather than later.

Nearly two-thirds of voters support a national vote on same-sex marriage, while just 22% support the matter being resolved by Parliament, as the opposition proposes. There’s little difference between supporters and opponents on the issue — 69% of supporters want a national vote and 68% of opponents. Overall, 60% of voters support same-sex marriage compared to 31% who oppose it; the only change in recent months appears to be a strengthening of opposition among Liberal voters after the party revealed itself to be deeply divided on the issue in recent weeks — support among Liberal voters now only just edges opposition, 45%-44%. Support is stronger among women (63%) than men (56%) and declines with age — though 50% of over-55s support same-sex marriage compared to 43% who oppose it.

However, more than three-quarters of voters want a vote held either before or at the next election, with minimal support for Tony Abbott’s preferred option of a national poll (such as a plebiscite or referendum) held after the next election.

On timing, there’s a significant difference between supporters and opponents, one that reflects the thinking behind Abbott’s push to delay any national vote. Forty seven per cent of supporters of same-sex marriage want a vote before the next election; another 41% want it at the next election, whereas just 19% of opponents want a vote before the next election and 48% at the next election. But even so, just 21% of opponents want to delay the vote until after the next election.

The government’s decision to back a minimalist carbon emissions reduction target — 26%-28% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 — has little support among voters, with only 23% of voters backing it. Half of voters support the much stronger targets proposed by the Climate Change Authority (40%-60% on 2000 levels by 2030). While Liberal voters support the government’s targets more strongly, 27% prefer the Climate Change Authority targets, as do young people — 68% of under-25s support the stronger targets.

There’s also voter support for the trade union royal commission: 39% of voters believe it is a legitimate investigation of union practices, compared to 27% who say it is a political attack on Labor and the union movement — but 34% say they don’t know. Predictably, voters split along party lines, with Coalition voters ardent in believing the legitimacy of the royal commission while Labor and Greens voters are far more likely to see it as a political attack — though even 17% of Labor voters say it is legitimate. However, trade union royal commissioner Dyson Heydon should stand aside, say 38% of voters, while just 25% say he has no conflict of interest and shouldn’t stand aside. That splits along predictable party lines as well, but 18% of Liberal voters say Heydon should step aside.

On voting intention, Labor has lost another point on its primary vote, and is now down to 37%, while the Coalition remains on 41% and the Greens on 10%. That creates a two-party preferred outcome of 51%-49% in Labor’s favour, down from 52%-48% last week. What’s happening? Essential’s voting intention result is averaged over two weeks, and last week’s poll was (relatively) a shocker for Labor, but the effect was averaged out by the previous week’s result (53-47 to Labor); this week’s poll is an improvement for Labor, but last week’s result is still weighing on the numbers. Either way, the result is the Coalition’s best 2PP result since August last year; the question is whether it is the start of a trend.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey