Budget sinks, but budget measures float, while government is seen as uncaring

As far as voters are concerned it would appear that this budget is worse than the sum of its parts.

Budget Approval Longitudinal 2014When asked about the budget in toto it is even less popular than Wayne Swan's "tough" 2012 budget. 57% disapprove of this budget compared to 50% who approved of his, although Swan's support at 35% was a little lower than Hockey's at 39%.

Yet when broken down into its elements there is support for a large number of the savings measures, and stronger support for those on the spending side.

This analysis is based on an online panel of 518 Australian voters selected to mirror voting intentions in the wider population as reported in the latest Newspoll.

These voters are more engaged in politics than the average, and their views tend to predict the positions less engaged voters will adopt after they have had time to absorb the information.

We have figures for six budgets going back to 2005. Most budgets struggle to find friends. In fact the average figure for approval is 39%. But they also don't tend to make too many enemies as 39% is also the average figure for disapproval.

So most treasurers upset roughly equal numbers of voters, and leave around 20% neutral.

Hockey's budget is the outlier as it has the highest disapproval rating, and only 4% of voters are neutral, indicating a high degree of polarisation. This is confirmed by the fact that most opponents "strongly disapprove", while most supporters only "approve".

We also polled our panel on some of the headline positives and negatives in the budget, and these tell a different story.

Budget Measures 2014Out of the six measures we tested, four of them – polly perks freeze, Budget Repair Levy, abolition of Family Payments B and indexation of fuel excise - scored net positives.

The ones that attracted negative assessments were the increase in the pension age and the Medicare copayment with 52% and 54% respectively opposed, and 32% and 38% in favour.

In the case of the Medical Research Fund and the Growth Package support was very strong at 60% and 59% respectively.

So most measures were viewed positively on balance, and the two that were viewed negatively were still slightly more positive than the budget as a whole.

This suggests that opposition is not necessarily so much to the budget, per se, but to other factors for which it becomes a symbol.

From my reading of the qualitative research there are two candidates for these other factors.

One is the feeling, even amongst many who support it, that the budget does not do enough to change the direction of the economy.

The other is that for many opponents this confirms that the Abbott government is brutal, only governing for the rich and delighting in penalising the rest.

Another possible candidate could be that the budget represents broken promises, but in fact the level of anger at this appears quite low.

Unlike the leader of the opposition only two of our respondents used the word "liar" when referring to the budget, and "promises" was mentioned by only 20 respondents.

And when "promises" was mentioned, 30% of the time it was by people who approved of the budget who would say things like, "He managed to do it without breaking too many promises, he will cut back on waste, it looks good for next year."

It is as though voters accept that part of the business of politics is breaking promises, and that there is a tolerable level for this.

If a politician breaks a promise on something like not increasing taxes, this will be OK if the tax is one, like the Budget Repair Levy, that voters agree with. But it won't if this is a tax on carbon which voters don't like, or don't understand.

One reason voters may agree with the Budget Repair Levy is that it is an hypothecated tax and they can see how it is being used.

That could be the secret why voters accept indexation of fuel excise – it will go into building roads. As the enthusiasm for the Growth Fund shows infrastructure is something the public is keen on.

So Bill Shorten is on weak ground if he calls Tony Abbott a "liar".

However, another aspect of why the Repair Levy is popular is that it attacks the 1%.

Voters are very concerned that the cost of changing direction is born by the better-off, not the poor or vulnerable.

Some voters take that much further believing that the government is a conspiracy on behalf of the rich to repress the poor.

"We presently have a government of uncaring out of touch bare faced liars. Stealing from the poor and giving to the rich."

Budget Approval Party 2014This appears to be a sentiment most strongly felt by Greens. It is also felt by non-Greens minor party voters, who are the voters who will decide how much of this budget actually passes in the Senate.

They also control who wins the next election. Without their preferences Tony Abbott will be a one-termer.

These voters were a substantial proportion of the "Howard's Battlers" Howard lost in 2007 partly because after 17 years of continuous growth, they didn't feel they were any better off or getting their fair share.

They are not traditionally Liberal voters and they are suspicious of the wealthy. Even if he moved in elevated circles, Howard, with his daggy tracky dacks, was much more like one of them than the lycra clad Abbott or his cigar chomping retainers.

While not as opposed to the budget as Labor and Greens voters, they are still negative about it, leaving first preference Liberal voters to make up its support.

In summary, this is not a popular budget, but it is a first budget, containing some quite popular measures. It won't sink the government, unless subsequent budgets are just as unpopular.

What might sink them is the appearance of lack of compassion which many of the public see framing this budget.

 An edited version of this appeared in todays Australian as "Apparent lack of compassion bigger woe".

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+3 #1 RE: Budget sinks, but budget measures float, while government is seen as uncaringhugh bris 2014-05-20 14:37
Has any Gov.been so unpopular so soon after an election?? They definately are not wanted !
+3 #2 "Apparent"Allie 2014-06-10 11:05
It is not an 'apparent lack of compassion' it shows a total lack of compassion, understanding, connection with the real world or how the most vulnerable are already faring in this wealthy nation. The arrogance and cruelty expressed in this budget should and must make the LNP fall hard on their own swords. They have nothing but contempt for the Australian voters, way of life, those disabled and the vulnerable aged. They are an elite and entitled mob who lack emotional intelligence. Their neo-liberal ideology takes precedence over a fair and equitable Australia. They shame me to the core.
+3 #3 RE: Budget sinks, but budget measures float, while government is seen as uncaringMaureen Strazzari 2014-06-10 12:39
This government only tells the public what it has to; it is obviously concerned only with the wealthy and it denies climate change. It is the most conservative government we have had in a very long time. It is definitely not compassionate and Abbott is a liar.
+1 #4 RE: Budget sinks, but budget measures float, while government is seen as uncaringPeter Hindrup 2014-06-10 14:23
For another take on what is going on I recommend Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine, The rise of Disaster Capitalism’ available free on line. For those who haven’t the time to read the whole thing --- with I hope Graham’s permission! — read this section on Canada. If it looks familiar, it is because it is.

The destruction of the ‘impure’ system between capitalism and Keynesianism must be destroyed, according to the Friedman indoctrinated idiots.

The month after Williamson's conference in Washington, we caught a
glimpse of the new enthusiasm for "pseudo crisis" in my country, although
few understood it as part of a global strategy at the time. In February 1993,
Canada was in the midst of financial catastrophe, or so one would have concluded
by reading the newspapers and watching TV. "Debt Crisis Looms,"
screamed a banner front-page headline in the national newspaper,
0 #5 RE: Budget sinks, but budget measures float, while government is seen as uncaringPeter Hindrup 2014-06-10 14:25
Graham, your count system is way off, says that there more than a hundred 'symbols' left, and then rejects it as too long!

Wastes a lot of time!
+2 #6 Other Budget MeasuresGreg Platt 2014-06-10 21:09
There were other deeply unpopular measures in the Budget that the survey didn't touch:

(a) Cutting indexation of the Age Pension;

(b) Cutting the Commonwealth contribution to higher education and uncapping University fees;

(c) Six months waiting list for the dole if you're under 30; and

(d) Ripping money out of State government grants for health & education to force them to agree to increase the GST.

Abbott & Hockey have attacked virtually everybody (except the 1%) at once. They've made it abundantly clear that there is a class war going on in Australia - but only one side is fighting.