Monday, September 11, 2017

Turnbull, Morrison holding their own on the economy

Whatever is holding Malcolm Turnbull and his government behind in the polls so consistently, it doesn't seem to be their handling of the economy.

Voters' responses to special questions in the September Fairfax-Ipsos poll are hardly a ringing endorsement of the Coalition's economic policies, but it is clearly ahead on points.

On which party has the best policies for managing the economy, the Coalition is preferred by 38 per cent of respondents, hardly overwhelming, but comfortably ahead of Labor's 28 per cent, with the Greens scoring a mere 3 per cent.

Decades of polling show voters almost invariably see economic management as one of the Coalition's comparative strengths. This poll shows that pre-judgment has not been shaken by the Turnbull government's struggles.

We need to remember, of course, that, since the Howard government's reforms more than 20 years ago, the day-to-day management of the economy is carried out by the Reserve Bank, not the elected government.

Since then, governments of all persuasions have benefited from the central bankers' steadying hand on the tiller.

As Treasurer, Scott Morrison has had his critics but, even so, his latest approval rating of 42 per cent exceeds his disapproval rating of 38 per cent.

And that's a vast improvement over Joe Hockey's position in April 2015, some months before he lost the job, when his disapproval exceeded his approval by 25 percentage points.

It's hardly surprising that Morrison's approval among intending Coalition voters far exceeds his approval among Labor voters.

What is surprising – and to his credit politically - is that his approval rating among Labor voters is almost double his disapproval rating among Coalition voters.

On the question of preferred treasurer, Morrison scored 38 per cent, comfortably ahead of Labor's shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, on 29 per cent.

This, too, compares favourably with Hockey's margin of just 1 percentage point over Bowen in July 2014, just two months after Hockey's delivery of the government's hugely unpopular first budget.

This suggests Turnbull and Morrison's tactic in this year's budget of trying to bury all memory of that budget – and switch to using tax increases rather than spending cuts to repair the budget – is helping on the popularity front.

On the question of whether Turnbull or Tony Abbott has provided better economic leadership as prime minister, Turnbull's support of 56 per cent is more than double Abbott's 25 per cent.

Truly, Abbott and Hockey's popularity was unrecoverable after that disastrous first budget.

It's also noteworthy that, at 74 per cent, Labor voters' preference for Turnbull over Abbott far exceeds Coalition voters' preference of 66 per cent.

Some in Turnbull's party may see this as confirmation of his lack of conservative purity; the more savvy will see it as evidence of his potential to win votes from the other side if permitted to move closer to the "sensible centre".