Guardian Essential poll: two-thirds of voters back intervention in energy market as power prices soar

Survey after Jim Chalmers’ first budget suggests people pessimistic about economic outlook amid cost-of-living pressures

More than two-thirds of voters have backed the government intervening in the energy market to curb soaring power prices, after the Albanese government’s first budget did little to ease widespread cost-of-living concerns.

The latest Guardian Essential poll of 1,038 people, taken after Jim Chalmers’ first budget, found pessimism about the economic outlook, with more than half of those surveyed (61%) bracing for the economy to worsen in the next 12 months. This was a 13% increase since June.

The survey found almost half of all voters believed last week’s budget would be “bad or very bad” for their personal circumstances, with just one in four people saying it would help with cost-of-living pressures.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, who has been targeting the government over cost-of-living concerns, has lifted his positive rating from 23% in September to 29%, but still has a negative rating of 32%. Chalmers had a positive rating of 31% and a negative rating of 20%.

As the government flagged further intervention in the energy market as gas and electricity prices are expected to surge, the poll suggested most voters believed the government could do more.

The budget papers revealed a 56% increase to electricity prices and a 44% increase to gas prices over the next two years, prompting Chalmers to promise greater intervention to ease the price pressures in the system.

A total of 67% of those surveyed said they believed the government had the power to make a “meaningful difference” on energy prices, with only 21% saying they could not, and another 12% unsure.

When asked about what people believed were the drivers contributing to the 50% increase in energy prices revealed in the budget, 39% pointed to excessive profits by energy companies, while 38% blamed “efforts to fight climate change, such as the shift towards renewable energy” as either the most important or second most important factor.

The war in Ukraine came in third, seen as the most important driver by 16% of people, with another 17% nominating it as the second most important factor.

Older voters, women and Labor supporters were most likely to blame excessive profits by energy markets, while men and Coalition voters were more likely to nominate the shift to renewables.

On Monday, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said the government would act “as soon as practicable” to do more, with expectations rising of a price trigger that would increase domestic gas supplies and a beefed-up role for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The Essential survey found little confidence that the budget would ease cost-of-living concerns over the next few years. Just 25% of those polled believed the budget would probably provide relief – lower than the 33% who had some optimism on this measure after the Coalition’s final budget in March.

Older people were most pessimistic about the likelihood the budget would help them, with just 19% of those over the age of 55 expecting some reprieve, compared with 37% of young people who said the budget would “likely” help.

More generally, the budget was seen to have few winners. Only 40% of those surveyed believe the budget would create jobs, down from 46% in April, while 36% said it will help Australia recover from the impact of Covid-19. More people than in April (53% to 51%) said the budget will place unnecessary burdens on future generations, despite more people thinking the Labor budget will keep debt under control more than the previous government.

The post election budget has captured less attention than budgets of the past several years, with 56% of people paying attention compared to about 65% over recent years. Those who consider themselves financially comfortable were more likely to pay attention (66%) than those who are experiencing serious financial difficulty (51%).

After Chalmers spurned cost-of-living relief measures to try to slay the “dragon” of inflation, just 16% of people said the budget will be good for them personally, with 38% saying the budget is “bad or very bad” for their individual circumstances, and 37% being indifferent.

The 38% negative rating is a nine percentage point fall since April, and 11% lower than the Covid budget delivered in late October 2020. People judged that the budget is bad or very bad for people on low incomes (40%), average working people (34%), older Australians (32%), younger Australians (27%) and the economy overall (32%).

After a public debate over whether to keep the stage-three tax cuts – which the government has decided not to amend for the time being – the group seen as the most likely to benefit are people who are well off, with 42% of those surveyed suggesting the budget will be good for this group.

Along with the lacklustre reception to the budget, the poll found a two percentage point dip in the positive rating of Albanese, with 45% of people giving him a positive rating of between 7 and 10, and 20% giving him a negative rating, up three percentage points. The change for both measures is within the +/-3% margin of error of the poll.


Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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