15 June 2015
Voters drift away from Tony Abbott
Voters are again drifting away from Tony Abbott after a brief post-budget pause amid a worsening housing affordability crisis and the government's refusal to bend on popular social reforms such as same-sex marriage equality.
The Coalition's denial of the two issues in recent weeks has headlined a poll slump which if continued would feed tensions within the Liberal Party over policy and presentation, and could even see the leadership question revisited.
Seven out of 10 voters (68 per cent) now disagree with Mr Abbott's trenchant refusal to legalise same-sex marriage, and on the crucial economic question of whether housing is affordable to prospective first home-buyers, just 29 per cent of capital city residents say it is compared to 69 per cent who disagree.
In Melbourne, it rises to 33 per cent of residents who believe it is affordable, while in Sydney it drops to just 18 per cent, in a graphic demonstration of why Treasurer Joe Hockey's claim that the real estate market was working well was so incendiary in his home town.
He also counselled those wanting to buy their own first home to ensure they had good, well-paid jobs, in comments that sparked fury among younger voters locked out despite relatively successful careers.
The June Fairfax-Ipsos poll shows support for the government ebbing since May with Labor leader Bill Shorten even regaining his longstanding edge over Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister.
After dropping behind in May for the first time in more than a year, Mr Shorten is the "preferred" prime minister of 42 per cent of voters – just a single point ahead of Mr Abbott but a solid 6-point turnaround from last month.
Labor's share of the two-party-preferred vote after preferences now stands at 53 per cent to 47 per cent for the Coalition (based on preference flows at the last election), representing a 6.5 per cent swing away from the government since the 2013 poll – enough to see 30 Liberal-National seats fall to Labor.
Those figures reflect a 6-point shift based on a 3 percentage point improvement for the opposition at the expense of the Coalition.
An immediate post-budget survey in May had the two sides level-pegging on 50/50.
Labor's primary vote continues to languish at just 37 per cent – up 2 points since May, but its overall share is boosted by a solid and improving Greens primary vote of 14 per cent – up one point since May. The good Greens performance is an encouraging sign for the third-force leftist party which switched to a new leader, the previously low-profile Richard Di Natale, early last month.
The Coalition's primary vote has dropped three percentage points since the May survey, to be 40 per cent.
The nationwide statistically weighted phone-poll was taken from June 11-13 and is based on the responses of 1401 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 per cent.
The findings on housing affordability suggest the recent contributions on the subject by Mr Hockey and Mr Abbott have done more harm than good, and that struggling would-be buyers took offence at being told to succeed more in order to get loans.
While the federal government has little room to move on house prices, with the supply of new land being a state government responsibility, Mr Hockey's comments raised eyebrows within his own party room as they were seen as lacking empathy or, as the ALP framed them, "out of touch".
The poll comes as pressure mounts for a more substantive policy response from government with less than 50 per cent of house purchases now being done by owner-occupiers, as cashed-up older investors help to drive prices beyond the reach of newer entrants.
As Fairfax Media reports today exclusively, the Property Council has made a submission to the government's tax white paper process, calling for an end to stamp duty on housing which has haemorrhaged in recent years, dramatically adding to the purchase prices of homes.
It says the cost of stamp duty has exploded by 795 per cent and 749 per cent respectively in Melbourne and Sydney over the past 20 years.
As well as losing ground on the head-to-head measure of preferred prime minister, Mr Abbott's personal approval rating has also suffered with 40 per cent of voters approving of his performance compared to 54 per cent disapproving for a net rating of minus 14 per cent – down 6 points since May.
Mr Shorten is also in negative territory but less deeply with a rating of minus 6 per cent – down 2 since May.
Mr Shorten used a rally on the weekend to offer Mr Abbott further room on same-sex marriage by withdrawing his name from a private member's bill to legalise marriage equality.
Voters have moved on the issue long ago, but Mr Abbott continues to deny a formal party-room discussion in the hope that the issue will never come to a vote.
He believes he has the numbers in the Coalition at present to hold the line, but the poll confirms that voters cannot see why it should be blocked indefinitely.
Sixty eight per cent would wave the change through now – up three points since August last year. Yet even within the Parliament, where timidity reigns supreme, there has been steady erosion of resistance with Liberals and Nationals crossing the aisle to stand for change with the majority of their electors.
Mr Abbott's deep social conservatism has been exposed by the fact that even among Coalition supporters, 57 per cent – or nearly six in 10 – back marriage law reform to deliver full equality. Labor supporters back the change 3 to 1 and 90 per cent of Greens voters are in favour.
The conservative Catholic country of Ireland recently approved the change via a 62 per cent "yes" vote in a referendum.
Mr Abbott, however, believes he can recover his government's equilibrium in the final two sitting weeks of the budget session of Parliament by focusing on national security and his plan to strip dual nationals of their citizenship by ministerial fiat.
But the poll suggests it is economic security that is front-of-mind for voters amid slack wages growth, falling consumer confidence and sky-rocketing property prices.