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It's unhappy work, being a coalition voter

It's unhappy work being a Coalition voter – the world is a more threatening place, one's prospects are bleaker and it's all going to get worse. So depressed are Tony Abbott's supporters that they took the overall level of Australian consumer sentiment down this month.

Unreported in Wednesday's Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer sentiment survey was that the political chasm has widened again and, again, it is Coalition voters calling the confidence tune.

Consumer sentiment increased among people who said they would vote Labor at the next federal election - up 6.4 points to a strong 123.7 – but among Coalition voters it dived 12.1 points to 84.9, taking the overall seasonally adjusted index down 4.1 to 100, the break-even point between pessimism and optimism.

Often sentiment is what you make of it, and that could be seen in some of the reported interpretations of the survey.

Some saw that 4.1 fall as a terrible result considering the RBA had cut interest rates and unemployment had fallen. On the other hand, the trend version of the survey actually rose 1 point to 102.2 – but it seems nobody bothers reporting that.

It's also worth recording that the December fall was from the highest seasonally adjusted reading of the year and was still one of the best results of 2012.


As for the big gap in perceptions between Coalition and Labor voters, the former might be taking Joe Hockey's version of our economic outlook seriously, as summed up in his reaction to the RBA's latest rate cut.

"The Reserve Bank is trying to catch a falling Australian economy," he said. "The government is making it worse by going on a big taxing, big spending program."

Never mind that the biggest drag on the Australian economy right now is the federal and state governments cutting back on spending, the repeated Coalition story that falling interest rates are a sign of the economy going to the dogs appears to very effectively negate the positive consumer confidence impact retailers have been hoping lower rates might achieve.

Of the 23 groups in the demographic breakdown of the survey, only one group had a more pessimistic outlook than Coalition voters: households with annual income in the $40,000 to $60,000 band. Their score plunged a massive 17.8 points to 82 – a fall so large as to question its statistical error margin.

On the other hand, in view of the potential double jeopardy, perhaps the relevant authorities should be issuing pre-emptive Prozac to any Coalition voter earning around $50,000.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.


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