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10 Feb 2012

EMC director Peter Lewis talks about the “disapproval” ratings of the country’s leaders

It’s time to rename some of our key poll indicators. There is no longer a place for ‘Approval Ratings’ in Australian politics because there is so little approval to rate.

Instead we can say that both leaders are enjoying majority levels of disapproval and working hard to secure a vital edge in the category, carefully managing their public appearances and media profile to raise their stats.

As this week’s Essential Report shows, these figures are the result of more than 18 months focussed activity that has seen both leaders’ disapproval soar while their approval ratings have been carefully contained.

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Julia Gillard is doing as Prime Minister?

  Jul 2010 Dec 2010 Mar 2011 June 2011 Sept 2011 Oct 2011 Nov 2011 Dec 2012 Jan 2012 Feb 2012
Gillard approve 52% 43% 41% 34% 28% 34% 37% 34% 37% 36%
Gillard disapprove 30% 40% 46% 54% 64% 59% 55% 54% 52% 53%


Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Tony Abbott is doing as Opposition Leader?


  Jan 2010 Dec 2010 Mar 2011 June 2011 Sept 2011 Oct 2011 Nov 2011 Dec 2011 Jan 2012 Feb 2012
Abbott approve 37% 39% 38% 38% 39% 40% 36% 32% 35% 35%
Abbott disapprove 37% 39% 47% 48% 50% 51% 52% 53% 51% 53%


If you break these figures down, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been making real progress in shoring up her disapproval amongst men (53 per cent), older voters (62 per cent) and the people of Queensland (61 per cent).

Not to be outdone, Opposition leader Tony Abbott is surging in unpopularity among women (54 per cent), younger voters (53 per cent) and again, Queenslanders (57 per cent), who seem prepared to disapprove of any politician whose name isn’t Kevin.

Of course, disapproval cannot be monitored in a vacuum – which is where the Least un-Preferred Prime Minister ratings provide real insight. Despite some real progress, the Prime Minister still lags Tony Abbott in this classification.

Q. Who do you think would make the least bad Prime Minister out of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott?


  Jul 2010 Mar 2011 June 2011 Sept 2011 Oct 2011 Nov 2011 Dec 2011 Jan 2012 Feb 2012
Julia Gillard 53% 44% 41% 36% 38% 41% 39% 39% 41%
Tony Abbott 26% 33% 36% 40% 39% 36% 35% 36% 34%
Don’t know 21% 23% 24% 24% 23% 24% 26% 25% 25%


Apart from the 55-plus demographic who are evenly split in their disdain, Gillard fails to dislodge Abbott as the least popular leader in all key categories, male (42-37), female (40-32), the young (44-29) and those hard to please Queenslanders (54-43).

After finishing 2011 in the doghouse, early indicators suggest the Prime Minister has taken her eye off the ball in the Unpopularity stakes on the return of parliament, possibly undermined by pursuing an economic agenda in line with Labor values.

Having worked so hard to sully the office of Prime Minister, these figures will be a reminder to the Opposition Leader that he can’t rest on his laurels if he wants keep up with his opponent. Or down as the case may be.

Personal attacks and denigration, name-calling in the House, concocted scare campaigns in high-vis vests and the reflexive endorsement of any campaign the business lobby trots out have shown it is possible to drag a leader down. But there is still much more to do.

There has always been an anti-authoritarian streak in the Australian political culture, it’s just we now have a political leader who leads the anti-politician movement from the front.

Of course the risk for Abbott is that most voters think his opponent will not be leader by the time of the next federal election, when millions in taxpayers’ dollars will be available to further undermine confidence in our government.

Q. Do you think Julia Gillard will still be leading the Labor Party at the election due next year?


  Total Vote Labor Vote Lib/Nat Vote Greens
Yes 31% 54% 19% 43%
No 47% 22% 70% 26%
Don’t know 22% 24% 11% 31%


He can take comfort in having someone new to drag down. But can a soufflé collapse twice?