Scott Morrison is battling rolling ructions inside his government and sustained opprobrium from voters after a summer of catastrophic fires, and now floods, with the latest Guardian Essential poll confirming the prime minister remains in the political doldrums.
Morrison’s approval stood at 45% at the end of 2019, but slumped five points in January as Australians battled terrible bushfires. This fortnight, Morrison’s approval sits on 39%, and more than half the sample, 52%, disapprove of his performance.
While Morrison led the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, as preferred prime minister decisively last November (44% to 28%) before disaster struck, the Guardian Essential sample now has the two leaders neck-and-neck on 36%, with 28% unsure.
A community debate about the link between climate change and the summer of wild weather has also spilled over to the Coalition now that federal parliament has resumed for 2020, with Liberals and Nationals now publicly at odds about whether more needs to be done to prevent global heating, and about taxpayer backing for new coal-fired power.
As well as the open scrapping between Liberals and Nationals on climate action, the Nationals also remain rancorously at odds after Barnaby Joyce launched an unsuccessful bid to return to the party leadership last week.
Late on Monday, Labor managed to humiliate the government by elevating the renegade Nationals MP Llew O’Brien as deputy speaker, despite Michael McCormack backing another candidate, Damien Drum. O’Brien – a Joyce backer – declared earlier in the day he would no longer sit in the Nationals party room after a heated argument with McCormack.
The Nationals deputy whip, Ken O’Dowd, later told the ABC he voted to support O’Brien, his fellow Queenslander, for the deputy speaker’s position, despite the party leadership anointing Drum for the position.
While the opening of the new parliamentary year has been turbulent for Morrison and the government, the latest poll suggests he remains popular with Coalition voters in the survey. The prime minister still gets the thumbs up from 78% of Coalition supporters.
Albanese’s approval and disapproval is much the same as it was last month, with 41% of the sample giving him the tick and 31% a cross. Australians are still working Albanese out, with 28% of the sample still unable to express a view about whether they approve or disapprove of his performance.
Albanese also tracks lower in terms of approval with Labor’s rusted-on voters than Morrison does with the Coalition cohort. While Morrison’s approval with supporters is in the high 70s, Albanese’s approval with Labor voters is 62%.
Voters were asked questions this fortnight about their level of concern about the surplus likely being a casualty of bushfire recovery efforts, the so-called sports rorts scandal and the coronavirus.
While a majority of the sample are entirely sanguine about the government walking away from the surplus commitment in order to bankroll bushfire recovery, more than half of respondents (57%) are critical of the Coalition declaring the budget was “back in the black” when that was a projection, and not a reality.
On the sports grants issue, 70% of the sample agrees the decisions of all government MPs involved in allocating grants needs to be investigated given the scathing assessment of the program by the Australian National Audit Office.
But 49% of the sample also say the resignation of the former sports minister Bridget McKenzie should be the end of the matter. Coalition voters are more likely to argue McKenzie’s departure should be the end of the imbroglio than other cohorts.
Australians are still forming views about the potential impact of the coronavirus, although more than half the sample is either concerned or quite concerned.
Just under half the sample (49%) says the government is doing enough to protect Australians, and 30% say not enough. A strong majority of respondents support the quarantine and travel restriction initiatives put in place by the government.
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 poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3%. The sample size is 1,056 respondents.