Essential poll: Scott Morrison regains lead as preferred prime minister after bushfire backlash | Australia news


Scott Morrison has pulled back in front of Anthony Albanese as preferred prime minister, and Morrison has recorded a slight improvement in his approval rating as the coronavirus has dominated the headlines, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll.

As the government moves to finalise its stimulus package, the latest survey finds Morrison is preferred as prime minister by 40% of the sample and Albanese by 35% – a five-point rebound.

The prime minister lost his lead on the head-to-head preferred prime minister measure in January during the sharp voter backlash over the catastrophic summer bushfires, and the slump was sustained. Last month Morrison and Albanese were level pegging on 36%.

Morrison’s approval has also increased from 39% to 41% in a month, and his disapproval has gone from 52% to 49%. Albanese’s approval is steady on 41% and the Labor leader’s disapproval is up two points from 31% to 33%. These movements are largely inside the poll’s margin of error, which is plus or minus 3%.

The poll also suggests Australian voters have a firmer fix on Morrison than Albanese. Asked whether they approve or disapprove of the prime minister’s performance, only 10% of the survey said they didn’t know, while a quarter of the sample is still on the fence about Albanese. But the trend in the survey suggests people are beginning to develop clearer views about the Labor leader. Last July, 37% of the sample didn’t know whether they approved or disapproved, compared with 26% now.

The mild recovery for Morrison comes as the government finalises a multi-billion dollar stimulus to try and stave off a domestic recession triggered by the coronavirus. Morrison on Tuesday warned the economic effects of the pandemic could be worse than the global financial crisis.

The government has signalled that a new business investment allowance, a financial boost for pensioners through changes to deeming rates, and immediate support for small and medium-sized businesses will form part of the stimulus package, which is expected to be unveiled before Morrison meets the premiers this Friday at the Council of Australian Governments. The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has also softened the ground for some form of handout to boost consumption, confirming the government will look to support people through the tax and transfer system to ensure “the support gets out there as fast as possible”.

Ahead of the stimulus package, the government will unveil a $2.4 billion health package aimed at boosting the capacity of the sector to cope with the outbreak and slowing the spread of the virus.

The Morrison government also continues to be dogged by the sports grants controversy, which shows no sign of abating. Senate hearings are under way to try and untangle mismanagement in the grants program that was savaged by the Australian National Audit Office.

Voters remain concerned. A majority of the Guardian Essential sample, 71%, wants sports “rorts” investigations to continue. Less than half the sample (43%) believes the former sports minister Bridget McKenzie’s resignation is the end of the matter.

Public sentiment about the coronavirus is also evolving as events rapidly unfold. The survey this fortnight suggests more people are “very” concerned about the virus than they were a month ago, but less people say they are “quite” concerned.

Around a third of the sample believe they will become infected as the virus hits the point of community transmissions, while 69% of the sample thinks it is somewhat unlikely or very unlikely that they will get ill.

According to responses to a series of questions posed this week about which major party is best placed to manage particular events – voters continue to rate the Coalition as better than Labor at managing both a major health crisis and an economic one – even though the then Rudd government’s management of the global financial crisis helped keep Australia out of recession.

The Coalition is also rated ahead of Labor on managing security threats and on managing the challenge of Australia’s ageing of the population. Labor is rated ahead of the Coalition on managing a major environmental crisis, and also managing the transition to a low carbon economy.

Voters in the sample were also asked more specific questions about economic management. A majority said the Coalition was better at managing the economy to benefit big business, and a majority thought Labor was better at managing the economy to benefit workers.

The government was rated ahead of Labor at managing the economy generally and managing the economy to benefit small business, while Labor was in front on managing the economy to benefit older Australians and people in regional communities.

With the government signalling it will rebalance support away from renewables and towards other low emissions technologies as part of a looming energy policy roadmap, voters were also asked for their views on that shift.

A majority of the sample clearly favours further taxpayer funded research into renewables (71%) while some of the technologies favoured by the government are down the priority list. Hydrogen attracts a thumbs up from 57%, “clean” coal 50% and nuclear energy 38%.

There has been controversy post-election about the reliability of opinion polling, as none of the major surveys – Newspoll, Ipsos, Galaxy or Essential – correctly predicted a Coalition victory last May. The polls instead projected Labor in front on a two-party-preferred vote of 51-49 and 52-48.

The lack of precision in the polling has prompted public reflection at Essential, as has been flagged by its executive director, Peter Lewis.

Guardian Australia is not now publishing measurements of primary votes or a two-party-preferred calculation, but is continuing to publish survey results of responses to questions about the leaders and a range of policy issues.

The sample size this fortnight is 1,096 respondents.



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