A surge in Labor’s primary vote has eliminated the Coalition’s lead under Malcolm Turnbull, delivering the government’s worst result since the ousting of Tony Abbott, today’s Essential Report shows. .

Labor’s vote is up to 38%, its best performance since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, while the Coalition’s primary vote is down a point to 43%. With the Greens down a point to 10%, the two-party preferred outcome is 50%-50%, down from 52%-48% in the government’s favour last week.

The result suggests that last’s week 50-50 Newspoll, which initially looked like an outlier, in fact caught a palpable shift in the political mood beyond Canberra away from a government that has looked rattled and directionless under its new economic leadership.

The change in voter sentiment is reflected in a small but consistent shift in sentiment on which party is trusted more on major issues. In December, the Turnbull government held a strong lead over Labor across a variety of key issues, and it had improved that lead since October. Even in areas of Labor strength, like education and health, the Coalition only trailed a little or was even with Labor. But those leads have now fallen back. On managing the economy, the Coalition leads Labor 41% to 22%, but that is down two points since December. It’s not much, but the same change has happened across most issues. On security and the War on Terror, the lead is down three points to 20; on political leadership it’s down six points to 16, on controlling interests rates, it’s down two to 16; on education the Coalition trailed by one point in December and now trails by five; it was level on health but now trails by four; on “a fair industrial relations system” it now trails by 10, and on treatment of asylum seekers its lead has fallen by 10 points to just a five-point lead over Labor.

There’s also been a shift in what issue voters identify as important in shaping how they vote. Traditionally, economic management has been identified as the most important issue for voters, but that issue has been diminishing in importance since 2013 despite Australia’s worsening economic performance. Late last year, health, always the second most important issue for voters, was rated as a top-three issue by 46% of voters, while the economy was rated as a top-three issue by 47%. Now, health has overtaken the economy, rated as a top-three issue by 43% of voters, compared to 37% of voters rating the economy as a top-three issue. “Ensuring a fair taxation system” continues to rate highly as well, for 29%, while education, which used to rate highly with voters, is now a mid-tier issue, on 21%.

Voters are also opposed to the idea of an early election — but less so than last year.

earlyelection-copy

A majority of voters still believe an election should be held “as scheduled” but, amid persistent talk of an early double dissolution election, opposition has diminished since September. However, voters are strongly supportive of the government’s Senate voting reforms: 53% of voters support the government’s proposals and just 16% disapprove. Labor voters back the reforms 52%-19%, while Coalition voters back them 71%-9%. But despite the Greens enthusiastically backing the reforms and their being rushed through parliament, Greens voters are less supportive, splitting 42%-29%.

Peter Fray

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