Essential poll: Labor's two-party-preferred lead jumps to 10 points

The leadership change fails to give the usual bounce, while Julie Bishop is ahead of Scott Morrison as best leader

The Liberal party’s leadership crisis has propelled Labor 10 points in front of the Coalition, and Julie Bishop, not Scott Morrison, was the first choice of voters to take the prime ministership, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll.

The new survey, which follows a fortnight of catastrophic civil war in the Liberal party, has Labor ahead of the Coalition on the two-party-preferred measure 55% to 45%. A fortnight ago, before the government shelved its energy policy and dumped Malcolm Turnbull, Labor was ahead 52% to 48%.

There has also been a four-point drop in the Coalition’s primary vote, which has gone from 39% to 35%.

Leadership coups in the past have delivered the major parties an average bounce in the primary and two-party-preferred measures of 3%, according to Guardian Essential data. This positive trend was consistent from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard, Gillard back to Rudd, and Tony Abbott to Turnbull – but this time the Liberals have gone backwards.

Voters are divided about whether or not the leadership change from Turnbull to Morrison should have happened. Two-fifths, or 40%, of the sample disapproved, with 18% expressing strong disapproval; 35% approved of the change, including just over half of Coalition voters in the sample.

Ominously for the government – which is now on its third leader in only two terms in office – more than half the sample, 57%, agrees with the statement “the Liberal party is divided and no longer fit to govern Australia”. More than half, 52%, believe Morrison should call an early election.

But a slightly higher percentage, 56%, say the new occupant of The Lodge should be given time “to show he can do a better job of governing Australia”. Perhaps underscoring the disillusionment of voters after a decade of leadership coups in Canberra, almost half the sample says the latest change “makes no difference to the Liberal party’s ability to govern Australia”.

Asked to rank their preferred Liberal party leaders, 23% (up 7% since July) nominated Bishop, who quit the frontbench after an unsuccessful attempt to take the leadership in a three-way race last week. Only 15% nominated Turnbull, which is a 13% plunge in his ranking since July.

Peter Dutton, the challenger who precipitated the implosion by declaring he would challenge Turnbull for the top job, was picked by only 4% of the sample, while 9% backed Abbott.

Among Coalition supporters, Bishop was ranked first, Morrison second, Turnbull third, Abbott fourth, and Dutton – who was portrayed by his backers and a coterie of conservative media boosters as the pick of the party base – was ranked fifth.

There are two pieces of good news for Morrison in the new Guardian Essential poll. The first is his standing as Liberal leader has improved since July. In July, only 2% of the sample nominated him the best Liberal leader. That’s now up to 10%.

The second is the new prime minister remains ahead of Bill Shorten as better prime minister. Morrison has the backing of 39% (down 2% from Turnbull’s rating last month), and 29% backed Shorten.

The anger of Australian voters towards the Liberals manifests in answers to questions about attributes. Voters nominated the main attributes of the political party now occupying the government benches as division (79%), out of touch with ordinary people (69%), will promise anything to win votes (68%), and too close to big corporate and financial interests (67%).

Since the questions were posed last month, the main changes were divided (up 23%), has a good team of leaders (down 14%) and clear about what they stand for (down 12%).

In a head-to-head comparison of major party attributes, voters rank Labor more highly than they rank the Coalition for looking after the interests of working people and being clear about what they stand for. Labor is considered less divided, not as close to the big end of town, and more in touch with ordinary voters.

Voters were also asked to express a view on six policy propositions. Only 32% of the sample thought the government should withdraw from the Paris agreement – which is a position some in the government advocate.

Fewer than half, 41%, supported the idea of funding more coal-fired power plants, which is a position championed by some in the National party.

Dutton and Abbott’s position on reducing immigration was more popular. 62% of the sample supported that idea – including 55% of Labor voters and 78% of Coalition voters. Expanding more short-term work visas was unpopular too, with only 34% support.

The now dumped tax cut for big businesses was supported by only 25% of the sample. Cutting income tax rates for people earning over $200,000 was similarly unpopular, supported by 23%.

Morrison has attempted to galvanise his shell-shocked government after the upheaval of the last fortnight by appointing Josh Frydenberg as the new treasurer and shuffling his ministry on Sunday.

The new prime minister has included many of the key plotters in the ministerial revamp, including Dutton, the challenger, and Mathias Cormann, the finance minister who deserted Turnbull for the Queenslander.

While he dumped Dutton’s numbers men, he kept some of the next-generation conservatives who were in the Dutton column in politically sensitive portfolios, and has attempt to placate former leaders Barnaby Joyce and Abbott with “envoy” roles.

But Abbott appears reluctant to take the olive branch. On Monday, the former prime minister queried whether his new proposed role of special envoy for Indigenous affairs was “fair dinkum”.

Abbott – who is under fire internally because of his constant wrecking – also signalled he had no intention of bowing out of politics. He characterised himself as a “young man” with “a lot of public life left in me”.


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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