Nearly half of voters want failed prime minister Tony Abbott gone from politics, but many Liberal voters would prefer to see him given a ministry in the Turnbull government, today’s Essential Report suggests.

With the former PM and a small clique of supporters now engaged in a Rudd-style destabilisation campaign against his replacement, 30% of voters want Abbott to leave politics immediately, and another 19% want him to leave at the next election. However, 31% of Liberal voters want Abbott to remain in politics and be given a ministry, compared to 18% of all voters, while another 17% of Coalition voters want him to remain in politics on the backbench. But 37% of Coalition voters want Abbott to resign immediately or at the next election.

There’s little support for Abbott’s delusions of a return to power, however. Just 9% of voters prefer Abbott as leader of the Liberals, including 14% of Coalition voters. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is preferred leader for 42% of voters, including 57% of Coalition voters; Julie Bishop beats Abbott into second place as preferred leader for 13% (14% for Coalition voters, like Abbott; she also gets the support of 16% of female voters, compared to 10% of men), while Abbott shares third spot with “someone else”. Scott Morrison and Christopher Pyne are preferred by 2% of voters. Turnbull has increased his dominance since the week after the leadership coup, when he was preferred by 37% of voters; Abbott has remained on 9% since then.

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, however, has gone backwards since September and for now trails both Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese as preferred Labor leader, with Shorten on 13% and his NSW colleagues on 14%. Shorten led Plibersek 16% to 13% in September and Albanese 16% to 12%; they all trail “someone else” on 17%. Shorten does however lead among Labor voters, 27% to Albanese on 19% and Plibersek on 18%.

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Shorten’s voter approval ratings haven’t shifted in the last month: 27% of voters approve of his performance and 47% disapprove, the same as November; 27% of Labor voters disapprove of his performance. Malcolm Turnbull remains unchanged in his stellar performance rating: 56% of voters approve of his performance and 23% disapprove, compared to 56%/20% in November. He leads Shorten as preferred PM 54%-15%, down just a tad since November (55%-14%).

Shorten began the year with a one-off positive net approval rating, 39%-33%, which interrupted a steady run of mildly negative numbers. But he went back into the red in February and was consistently in low negative territory until July, when his appearance at the trade union royal commission and his admission of undeclared donations sent his net disapproval rating to 25. And while his disapproval numbers have come off a a little from the blistering plus-50s he was recording in the wake of the royal commission, he has remained there ever since.

Nevertheless, the relative approval of Turnbull and disapproval of Shorten don’t seem to be strongly reflected in voting intention. Labor is up a point to 36% while the Coalition remains on 44% and the Greens on 11% for an unchanged two-party preferred outcome of 51%-49% in favour of the Coalition.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey