The hostile reaction to the government’s first budget comes into sharper focus with two bruising new opinion poll results, both of which show Bill Shorten opening up a big lead as preferred prime minister.
UPDATE (Morgan): The fortnightly Morgan face-to-face plus SMS result sings from the same song sheet, with Labor up 1.5% to 38.5%, the Coalition down 2.5% to 35%, the Greens steady on 12%, and Palmer up a point to 6.5%. Whereas Morgan polls usually combine two weekends of polling, this one is entirely from Saturday and Saturday, so all the responses are post-budget and the sample is somewhat smaller than usual. On two-party preferred, Labor’s lead is up from 53.5-46.5 to 56.5-43.5 on 2013 election preferences, and 55-45 to 57.5-42.5 on respondent-allocated preferences.
After a relatively mild result from yesterday’s Galaxy poll, in which the government may have benefited slightly from an earlier polling period (Wednesday to Friday, the budget having been brought down on Tuesday night), two big name pollsters deliver horror results for the Coalition:
• Newspoll, conducted from Friday to Sunday, has Labor’s two-party lead out from 53-47 to 55-45, from primary votes of 38% for Labor (up four), 36% for the Coalition (down two), 11% for the Greens (down three) and 15% for others (up one). Worse still for the Coalition are the leadership ratings, which have Tony Abbott down five on approval to 30% and up four on disapproval to 60%, while Bill Shorten leaps seven points on approval to 42% and drops two on disapproval to 39%. Shorten has opened up a big lead of 44-34 as preferred prime minister, after Abbott led 40-38 a fortnight ago. The Australian’s report here.
• Even worse for the Coalition is the monthly Nielsen result in the Fairfax papers. Conducted from Thursday to Saturday, it shows Labor’s lead out to 56-44 from 52-48 a month ago. The primary votes are 40% for Labor (up six), 35% for the Coalition (down five), 14% for the Greens (down three from am implausible result last time, but still very strong) and 6% for Palmer United (up two). Tony Abbott sinks nine points on approval to 34% and adds twelve on disapproval to 62%, whereas Bill Shorten is up four to 47% and down two to 39%, and shoots to a 51-40 lead as preferred prime minister after trailing 45-44 last time.
The leadership ratings in particular invite comparison with Julia Gillard’s low points. While Abbott still has a way to go before matching the worst of Gillard’s ratings in Newspoll, his present net approval rating of 28% in Nielsen was exceeded by Gillard on only two occasions, in September and October of 2011, and equalled in July 2011. Gillard’s final result before she lost the leadership in June 2013 was 36% approval and 61% disapproval. Abbott himself scored fractionally worse figures as Opposition Leader in December 2012, of 34% approval and 63% disapproval.
Both pollsters also have results gauging reaction to the budget, with Nielsen finding 63% considering it unfair against 33% for fair. The deficit levy finds support, with 50% in favour and 37% against, but there’s a surprisingly narrow majority of 49% to 46% in favour of abolishing the carbon tax. The poll finds predictably strong opposition to the notion of increasing the GST, with 30% for and 66% against.
Newspoll’s results on budget reaction are particularly illuminating, as it has been asking the same three questions after every budget since 1988. Forty-eight per cent rate this budget as bad for the economy versus 39% for good, with 4% opting for neither; 69% say it will leave them worse off, compared with just 5% for better off and 20% for neither; and 39% believed that Labor would have done a better job, with 46% saying they wouldn’t have.
The latter result can be put into context with the following chart, showing the positive result minus the negative result for the equivalent question going back to 1988, with Labor budgets in red and Coalition budgets in blue. This shows that the only budget to record a net result in favour of yes was in 1993, when the Keating government followed its surprise election win by breaking its L-A-W tax cuts promise. As such, the slight net negative result for this budget is an historically weak one for the government – particularly when taking into account an apparent tendency for governments to perform strongly on this measure when newly elected, and decline thereafter. This takes a good deal of gloss off the consolation the Coalition might have taken in the result being better than the last three for the previous government.
The next chart plots the result for each budget on “impact on own financial position” along the x-axis and impact on the economy along the y, with the current result indicated in red. This shows a clear association between the two results, demonstrating that people generally decide whether a budget is good or bad, and deem it equally so for both themselves and the economy. To the limited extent that variability exists, there does appear to be at least some constituency for the view that the pain inflicted in the current budget will be good for the economy – whereas the trendline indicates that the minus 64% rating on own financial position could be expected to associate with 24.5% on the economy, the latter figure in fact comes in at a relatively presentable minus 9%. Nonetheless, the outstanding fact to emerge from the chart is that the budget inhabits a zone of extreme unpopularity with only 1993 to keep it company. The budget the government might have been hoping to emulate, Peter Costello’s cost-cutting debut of 1996, had a plus 37% rating on the economy despite a minus 21% rating on personal financial situation.
Finally, a table showing the net result for all three measures at each budget, with averages by party at the bottom. This shows that despite the current results, Coalition budgets tend to be better received than Labor ones, with the gap being wider on impact on the economy. Partly this is down to historical circumstance – Labor was marked down for the recession-era budgets of the early 1990s, while the Howard government made political hay out of the revenue boom in its later years in office (though obviously not to the extent of saving them from the electoral cycle in 2007). However, it also reflects the tendency for the Coalition to outperform Labor in “best party to manage the economy” polling, a point illustrated by the averages for “would the opposition have delivered a better budget”. For more context on the individual budgets, here’s a very helpful resource from the Sydney Morning Herald.