First impressions are hard to shake. Voters thought the Abbott government’s first budget was unfair the moment they digested it and, almost six weeks on, that judgment hasn’t changed.
Despite an improvement in the Coalition primary and two-party preferred vote, the latest Age-Nielsen Poll represents a stunning 6.5 per cent swing against the Coalition since the election.
The proportion of voters who consider the budget to be unfair – 61 per cent – is virtually unchanged since the first post-budget poll, and mirrors the prime minister’s disapproval rating.
In a neat symmetry, the proportion of voters who give the budget a tick on fairness – one in three – is virtually the same as the number who approve of Tony Abbott’s performance (35 per cent).
Attempts to sell the budget have been about as effective as those of certain right-wing commentators to damage the standing of Malcolm Turnbull, who remains the choice of 62 per cent of voters as the preferred Liberal leader, up four points since February.
The budget sales effort has been undermined by stumbles over detail, the ill-discipline of backbenchers, Mr Abbott’s refusal to acknowledge the pre-election promises that were broken and unnecessary distractions.
What Mr Abbott desperately needs is a circuit-breaker, and his best hope is that the new Senate will provide him with one, giving him the numbers to abolish the carbon tax, secure the passage of controversial budget measures and generate some momentum.
Bill Shorten retains his lead as preferred prime minister, but the Labor leader has a problem of his own: voters still don’t have a clear idea of who he is and what he stands for.
His approval rating is down five points to 42 per cent, but still just in positive territory (with a 41 per cent disapproval), in sharp contrast to Mr Abbott’s net rating of minus 25. But the lack of a firm endorsement is underscored when voters are asked to nominate their preferred Labor leader.
Mr Shorten tops the poll with 25 per cent, with Anthony Albanese second, on 19 per cent, Tanya Plibesek third on 17, and Tony Burke and Chris Bowen on seven. One quarter of those polled, as many as nominate Mr Shorten, do not have an opinion.
While Mr Turnbull tops the Coalition poll with 40 per cent, there is no prospect of a move to the former leader in the foreseeable future and no likelihood of him destabilising. Mr Abbott is second, at 21 per cent, well clear of Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop, on 11.
Mr Abbott also is the leader preferred by Coalition voters, whether the choice is a two-horse race between him and Mr Turnbull or all contenders.
His best hope of improving his standing with those who are not rusted on Coalition voters – and some who are – lies with the dynamic of the new Senate which is why, for Mr Abbott, July 1 cannot come soon enough.