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An own goal but the game is far from over

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Sydney Morning Herald political and international editor

View more articles from Peter Hartcher

ANALYSIS

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Shorten's poll boost

Bill Shorten opens a lead as preferred Prime Minister as the government is hammered in the opinion polls. Nielsen's John Stirton puts the poll in context.

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Tony Abbott has accomplished something that Bill Shorten could not. He has made Shorten Australia's preferred prime minister.

Today's Fairfax-Nielsen poll shows that 51 per cent of voters would prefer the Labor leader to be prime minister, over 40 per cent who favour Abbott.

PM Tony Abbott: The budget proved to be a landmark moment in political unpopularity.

PM Tony Abbott: The budget proved to be a landmark moment in political unpopularity. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

And the Opposition Leader has pulled ahead earlier than in any prime minister's term in 40 years.

The poll shows that the budget was a landmark moment in political unpopularity.

''There have only been less popular prime ministers on a handful of occasions'' in the 40-year history of the survey, pollster John Stirton said.

Favoured by 51 per cent of voters: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Favoured by 51 per cent of voters: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Those include when the Whitlam government was embroiled in the notorious Khemlani loans affair, when Paul Keating broke his ''L-A-W'' promise to deliver tax cuts, and when Julia Gillard announced the carbon tax.

Abbott was already a uniquely unpopular new prime minister in the early months of his term. But that was based largely on voters' fears and suspicions.

His first budget has confirmed the fears and validated the suspicions. The poll shows that the strongest objections to the budget are twofold: that people expect it will make them worse off personally, and that it is unfair.

Abbott and his Treasurer, Joe Hockey, could have worn the first as a badge of pride. They had promised a tough budget to fix the nation's deficit.

But unfair? That was never an Abbott promise. Or, as Stirton puts it: ''The election was Abbott's mandate to fix the budget. It was not a mandate to fix it unfairly.''

The hostile reaction to the budget has done Labor's work for it. Labor is suddenly ahead on primary votes for the first time in four years.

As UMR Research pollster Stephen Mills observes: ''Labor, at one stroke, has had its traditional positioning of representing the interests of the low- and middle-income families, looking after pensioners, defending Medicare, caring more about education and jobs and looking after the vulnerable spectacularly reinforced. The Liberals have vacated the field.'' However, the electorate is readier to acknowledge that the budget does move Australia towards a balanced budget. Asked whether the budget was economically responsible, respondents were closely divided, with 49 per cent answering yes and 48 no.

But the sharp overall movement against the Coalition was decisive and well beyond the poll's 2.6 per cent margin of error.

''The politics of the Australian budget,'' Mills says, ''seem so bad that you can only conclude that Abbott and Hockey must genuinely believe they are doing the right thing and will receive the electoral rewards of a booming economy in 2016.'' And it is that timing which explains why Abbott and Hockey are not panicking. Governments have hit these lows before and recovered to be re-elected. This poll puts the government behind by 56 per cent to 44 on the election- deciding measure, the two-party preferred vote.

The Howard government hit this low point in 1998, 2001 and 2004 yet recovered to win. As Stirton remarks: ''Recovery is always an option, especially when it's this early in the term.''

This is Abbott's and Hockey's first budget, not their third.

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318 comments

  • Well it’s hard to sugar coat the poll results – both Nielsen and Newspoll confirm that voters have given the government a thumping. Whether it’s for the Labor Debt Tax broken promise, the cuts to certain programs, the Medicare co-payment, indexing petrol excise or other factors is hard to tell.

    The poll hits are in line with those seen after Gillard’s carbon tax porky. Whether they’re short term or a trend remains to be seen. Abbott and Hockey will need to get out and sell the budget better, and noticeably Abbott put himself in the lion’s den of Insiders yesterday. Joe’s going solo on Q&A tonight, presumably with the protesters at the ready.

    The excise indexation for example, will cost the average household about 40 cents a week, hardly painful. “Earn or learn” seems like a fair proposition, with special circumstance exemptions. Even overall spending has softened slightly, hence the GDP growth projections are fair.

    Howard was able to convince voters a couple of times that hard medicine was required in the wake of another big spending ALP government. Can Abbott do it this time, or do voters still think we’re living in the age of entitlement ?

    Commenter
    Hacka
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    May 19, 2014, 6:48AM
    • I don't think that any political leader in history has shown quite such a blatant disregard for the integrity of their election "promises"

      Gillard at least had the excuse of needing to negotiate her way into minority government and was pilloried by Abbott for three years for doing so.

      In that context the rightness or otherwise of the budget is largely immaterial to the polls.

      Come back Oakshot and Windsor - all is forgiven!

      Commenter
      Toshack
      Location
      Latrobe Valley
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 8:27AM
    • The issue here is what the hard medicine is for. There is nothing in this budget that tackles the so-called budget emergency. In fact, expenditure is higher that Wayne Swan's last budget. All it attempts is to cover for higher expenditure by raising income from those who can least afford it.

      Commenter
      Gelert of Birrong
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 8:32AM
    • Abbott's broken promises are totally deliberate whereas the carbon tax was temporarily forced on Labor whose preference was and is an ETS which is vastly superior to the Direct Action Scheme of the Libs.

      Voters correctly believe the budget is unfair and the age of entitlement for those who have received huge tax breaks should be over.

      Commenter
      Good Logic
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 8:35AM
    • You have adroitly (tried at least) to sidestep the massive lying and deceptions, and projecting an extra $0.40c a week extra costs per household is a blatant lie.

      The ANU is already projecting an averaged 10% costs rise per low income family, are you claiming they live on $4.. per week now?

      Are you a LNP staffer?

      Commenter
      Staffer?
      Location
      Victoria
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 8:43AM
    • hakka, i love your posts. the use of LNP rhetoric is peerless. It's the Debt Levy according to Phony, not the Labour Defecit Tax as you call it. It's the 80 billion cut from the States expenditure because, health and education are their responsibility, while roads, also their responsibility are bizarre benegiciaries of this turkey of a budget. It's the rod for the backs of the poor and midddle class, and the svere talking to of the rich. It''s the obviously confected "Budget Emerergency!!!!" used to excuse a fraudulently ideological putsch to wind back 60 years of social reforms and cvut away all saety nets. That's what it is Hakka,, and I don't think there's any coming back for Sir Phony Abbott

      Commenter
      rod steiger
      Location
      toukley
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 8:47AM
    • Dear Hacka, you start off with "Well it’s hard to sugar coat the poll results .... barf barf barf": you then immediately launch into a molasses coated diatribe on how you predict your friend Tony will resurrect himself, like some Phoenix raising from itself from the ashes.
      There is another option - the distinct possibility that there may be a Double Dissolution soon and your friend may be cast aside like a "dirty pair of underpants" by his loyal Tory friends who are already scrambling to save their own collective skins.
      Your brazen loyalty is to be applauded: you remind me of the Black Knight (your mentor). If you don't know who he is (you probably don't because he is featured in a movie that only Lefties would watch) - here's a link. Please watch it and enjoy:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eMkth8FWno

      Alfie of Seaford

      Commenter
      Alfie
      Location
      Seaford
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 8:52AM
    • A piece of advice Hacka. When you're driving on wet grass and the wheels spin, don't put your foot on the accelerator. Tony and Joe our out there with the accelerator on. They have to back right off, admit that they got the budget wrong, admit the lies, admit that they tried to end entitlements, but not for those who pay to attend their 'lunches'.
      This was a cowardly, harsh, unfair budget that was never going to achieve the outcomes claimed. A fail on all counts. It has woken the masses.

      Commenter
      bg2
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 9:00AM
    • Labor lost the last election because they misled us on the carbon tax ...... At least they had the common decency to call a tax a tax. The lack of honesty for Abbott and Hockey on the new taxes is insulting to those of us who gave then the benefit of the doubt at the last election. The poll results reflect that the vast majority if us so not share your philosophical and misleading assessment hacka.

      Commenter
      Steve
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 9:01AM
    • I think the thumping is due to the unfairness & not the toughness of the budget. That pathetic debt tax fooled nobody & the stupid PPL looms large. Abbott may still recover but he has to take the ax to the high end earners on budget night 2015 to convince the voters.

      Commenter
      Lewis
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 19, 2014, 9:03AM

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