THE economy is by far the most important issue for voters as they face the 2013 election.
Confirming findings by qualitative researchers that international economic turmoil and the slowing of the mining boom have Australians anxious about job security and their economic futures, 35 per cent of voters told the latest Nielsen poll the economy was the most important issue in deciding for whom they would vote.
Ahead of the November 2007 election only 25 per cent nominated the economy.
Also rising as a front-of-mind issue was education, nominated by 11 per cent in 2007 and 19 per cent in this poll for Fairfax Media last week.
The environment and industrial relations appear to be declining in importance, with 10 per cent nominating the environment as the most important issue compared with 14 per cent in 2007, and only 5 per cent citing industrial relations compared with 14 per cent in 2007, when Labor's pledge to abolish the Howard Government's Work Choices regime was a key election issue.
The poll found that Coalition leader Tony Abbott's disapproval rating had risen to record highs, but that the Coalition was nonetheless in a position to easily win an election with a two-party-preferred vote of 52 per cent to Labor's 48. The poll found voters did not think that was going to change, with 53 per cent saying they expected the Coalition to win next year and only 35 per cent predicting a Labor victory.
Nielsen director John Stirton said the measure was important because it helped measure the ''expectation of change''.
Each side has nominated the other's negativity as the reason for Mr Abbott's unpopularity.
The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said the Coalition was paying the price for the fact that Mr Abbott was a ''thug'' and a policy ''weakling''.
Coalition frontbenchers said the result was due to Labor's character attacks against the Opposition Leader.
The Coalition pointed to the 125 polls conducted by various organisations this year, in which they were ahead in 120. Labor has led the Coalition on the two-party-preferred vote in only three polls. The other two were tied.
''I'd much rather be in our position than the government's position,'' said the frontbencher Simon Birmingham.
But Labor ministers seized on the slight improvement in the ALP's vote, and Mr Abbott's rising unpopularity, to insist the government had a good chance of re-election.
"We've got a prime minister who is tough as teeth, a prime minister who has got ideas for the future," Mr Swan said.
The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, said he believed there was still time for the government to reverse the poll figures, and win.
Mr Abbott's disapproval rating rose to 63 per cent, the second highest in Nielsen poll history.
Of voters who were aware of the AWU slush fund allegations, 64 per cent said they disapproved of the way he had handled that attack, including 46 per cent of Coalition voters.