Government clings to poll lead
The government is having some success at selling its tough economic message, according to the latest Nielsen/Fairfax opinion polling.PT4M8S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-34viq 620 349 March 16, 2014
The big take-out from the latest Age/Nielsen poll is that the Abbott government continues to be the least popular incoming administration in four decades.
Sit these results alongside those of other respected polls and the conclusion is that the two sides are virtually on level pegging, almost seven months after a triumphant Coalition swept to power.
Voters taking part in an anti-federal government rally in Melbourne on Sunday. Photo: Luis Ascui
Why? Because Tony Abbott still carries the baggage of being a very negative (and effective) opposition leader, and because his government, in too many areas, continues to behave as if it were in opposition.
There is also apprehension about the pain that will be inflicted in the May budget - apprehension that has been increased by the reluctance to release the recommendations of the Commission of Audit well before the budget, as flagged by Treasurer Joe Hockey last month. ''What is being hidden?'' voters are asking.
The clarity in the Coalition's message on industry policy (''We do not believe in government by chequebook'') has not been matched by its message on spending priorities. Here, the need is to reconcile the commitment to deliver on expensive promises such as the paid parental leave scheme while administering tough medicine in other areas.
Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
While the first Age/Nielsen poll of the political year in February was a bad one for Labor and Bill Shorten, these results are more consistent with earlier polls and the most recent Newspoll and Essential results. They paint a more troubling picture for the Coalition.
Shorten now has as many voters approving of his performance and disapproving, with some 15 per cent of voters uncommitted either way. This puts him in a better position than most new opposition leaders after their party loses government.
His - and Labor's - challenge is to start doing more than talking in slogans about jobs and the protection of entitlements such as penalty rates, and to spell out an alternative vision. It is also to flesh out the picture of a man and his beliefs that remains relatively unformed for many voters.
Not surprisingly, the Coalition is least popular in the two mainland states where voter apprehension about job security and the squeeze on pay packets is most acute - Victoria and South Australia.
This helps explain why the expectation of conservative rule in every state, for the first time since 1969, did not materialise on Saturday night, with a real prospect that Labor will be able to continue its 12-year hold on power in minority government in South Australia.
These are early days in the life of the government, but the danger for both sides, and both leaders, is that first impressions will be hard to shake at the business end of the electoral cycle.