17 August 2015
by Phillip Coorey

Coalition slips further behind, Shorten's approval rating improves

The Coalition has slipped further behind Labor, Bill Shorten's personal ratings have improved and Malcolm Turnbull has increased his lead over Tony Abbott as preferred Liberal leader, according to a new poll taken at the end of one the government's toughest weeks.

The latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll shows the government trailing Labor by 54 per cent to 46 per cent on a two-party preferred basis, a result, which if replicated on election day, would cost the Coalition up to 36 seats.

As Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Attorney-General, George Brandis, continued to squabble publicly about what to do next on gay marriage, the poll showed a record 69 per cent of voters supported legalised same-sex marriage while 25 per cent remained opposed.

Same-sex marriage has majority support in every age group, every voter group and each income bracket, including 88 per cent support among 18-24 year olds.

Crisis meeting
Cabinet will hold a crisis meeting within days to settle on either a referendum or a plebiscite and when it should be held. On Monday, Liberal MP Warren Entsch will introduce his private member's bill to legalise gay marriage but it has little hope of being debated and none of passing.

Senator Brandis and Mr Turnbull continued to argue on Sunday for a plebiscite at or before the next election while Mr Abbott kept open the referendum option, which threatens to split his party, and said any vote must be after the election. Labor, the Greens and Senate crossbench oppose a referendum, meaning the government could not pass the necessary enabling legislation even if it chose this path.

The other issue that dominated last week, climate change, also factored against the government, which released its post-2020 emissions reduction targets on Tuesday. The poll found 58 per cent of voters thought the Coalition was doing too little on climate change while 32 per cent felt the balance was about right.

The monthly poll of 1402 voters was taken from Thursday night to Saturday night and follows the government splitting over same-sex marriage, the release of its climate policy, and its Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption suffering a credibility blow with the revelation commissioner Dyson Heydon was booked to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser.

National conference
Since the last poll in July, Labor has also held its national conference in which leader Bill Shorten resolved policy positions on asylum seekers, climate change and gay marriage.

Labor's 54-46 two-party lead is up from the 53-47 lead of last month and is based on how preferences flowed at the last election. When those polled were asked how they would allocate preferences, Labor's two-party lead stretches to 56-44.

Since the last poll, Labor's primary vote rose 1 point to 36 per cent and the Coalition's was down a point to 38 per cent.

The Greens, under new leader Richard Di Natale, stayed steady at a healthy 16 per cent.

Approval ratings
Mr Shorten's approval rating rose 4 points to 39 per cent and his disapproval rating fell 6 points to 49 per cent. Mr Shorten inched further ahead as preferred prime minister, increasing by 2 points to 45 per cent while Mr Abbott stayed steady at 39 per cent.

Mr Abbott's approval rating was down a point to 35 per cent and his disapproval steady at 59 per cent.

Mr Abbott has shored up his leadership among conservative colleagues with his anti-gay marriage stance, but among all voters, he lags Mr Turnbull and deputy leader Julie Bishop as preferred leader.

Since the question was last asked in February, Mr Turnbull has increased from 39 per cent to 41 per cent as preferred Liberal leader. Ms Bishop has dropped 1 point to 23 per cent while Mr Abbott has fallen 4 points to 15 per cent.

Joe Hockey stayed steady at 5 per cent while Scott Morrison rose 1 point to 5 per cent.

Coalition voters
Among Coalition voters, Mr Abbott has fallen 5 points to 33 per cent and Mr Turnbull has fallen by the same margin to 25 per cent. Ms Bishop is next on 23 per cent, Mr Hockey on 6 points and Mr Morrison has risen 4 points to 8 per cent.

Among all voters since February, Mr Shorten has fallen 4 points as preferred Labor leader to 25 per cent. His deputy, Tanya Plibersek, has risen 4 points to 23 per cent, Anthony Albanese has risen 3 points to 19 per cent while Chris Bowen and Tony Burke bring up the rear on 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

Among Labor voters, Mr Shorten has fallen 9 points since February to 34 per cent as preferred Labor leader. He still bests Ms Plibersek, whose standing among Labor voters has risen 3 points to 24 per cent and Mr Albanese, who has risen 32 points to 19 per cent.

On a state-by-state breakdown, Labor has its strongest lead in Victorian and South Australia where it is ahead of the Coalition on a two-party basis by 58 per cent to 42 per cent.