Coalition support weakened by Nationals’ climate policy disagreement

A swing against the Nationals has weakened support for the federal government during a high-stakes argument over climate policy, cutting the Coalition’s primary vote from 39 to 37 per cent.

Labor has increased its primary vote from 31 to 34 per cent over the past month while the Greens have lifted their support from 10 to 11 per cent, highlighting a shift among voters that throws the government on the defensive.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has kept his edge over Labor leader Anthony Albanese as preferred prime minister, with a lead of 44 to 26 per cent, but the Coalition has paid a political price for an extended dispute among the Nationals over whether to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.

The exclusive results in the Resolve Political Monitor, conducted for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age by research company Resolve Strategic, show the swing against the government was wholly due to a cut in support for the Nationals from 5 to 3 per cent.

The Liberals increased their primary vote from 34 to 35 per cent but this was not enough to make up for the hit to the Nationals, leading to a fall in the overall Coalition vote from 39 to 37 per cent after rounding to the nearest whole number.

Resolve director Jim Reed said the result took the Coalition vote to its lowest point since the surveys began in April and represented a swing to Labor since the election.

“The last month sees a flow of votes from the Coalition to Labor and the Greens, but this is all coming from the Nationals,” he said.

“The Liberals have actually gained a point, but the Nationals have lost 40 percent of their vote share in just a few weeks. When you’re starting from a modest base, that’s statistically significant.”

Mr Reed said the result was the strongest for Labor to date but cautioned that the two-party result after preferences was still “too close to call” after considering the margin of error.

Because the Resolve Political Monitor gives respondents the option of making unprompted remarks about parties and leaders, the findings on primary vote came with repeated signs that climate change was an issue for many in their decisions.

“Everything about the vote movement, the changes in the ratings for the leaders and party brands and the comments submitted by voters is telling us that the Nationals’ loss is about their prevarication on the 2050 net zero decision,” Mr Reed said.

“Most of Australia supports it, most Queenslanders support it, most regional and rural voters support it, and most Nationals’ voters support it.”

“The majority of Nationals voters made up their minds on this a while ago and they’re making their way to the next pub, and it looks like a bunch of them have got fed up waiting for those in the Nationals who are still having a punch-up in the last pub’s car park.”

The Resolve Political Monitor was conducted from October 21 to 24 and asked 1603 voters about their views in online questions put in a random order to avoid a “donkey vote” with the results. It has a maximum margin of error of 2.5 per cent.

The shift in popular support came during a period of federal debate on climate policy, the vaccine rollout, the end of the ban on Australians travelling overseas, the move by NSW to end hotel quarantine, the likely powers of a new commonwealth integrity commission and a political storm over hidden donations to former attorney-general Christian Porter.

Voters expressed their views during the time Mr Morrison was waiting for Mr Joyce and his party room to decide their stance on the climate target but the responses were received before the Nationals announced support for net zero shortly before 6pm on Sunday.

Support for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation fell from 4 to 3 per cent over the month while support for independent candidates was unchanged at 9 per cent and support for others slipped from 7 to 5 per cent.

This meant 28 per cent of voters favoured a choice outside the Coalition, Labor and the Greens, a slight fall from 30 per cent the previous month. The results reveal signs that more voters are thinking of swinging from one choice to another, with 32 per cent describing themselves as “uncommitted” with their support.

Because the Resolve Political Monitor asks voters to nominate their primary votes in the same way they would write ‘1’ on the ballot papers for the lower house at an election, there is no undecided category in the results, a key difference with some other surveys. It also assigns vote to the Liberals and Nationals depending on electorate, including in Queensland according to which LNP party contested the seat at the last election.

Mr Morrison retained a strong lead as preferred prime minister, favoured by 44 per cent of voters compared to 26 per cent for Labor leader Anthony Albanese, with 30 per cent undecided. The gap between the two has narrowed to 18 percentage points in recent months from 24 points in May.

Asked to rate Mr Morrison’s performance, 47 per cent said it was good while 43 per cent considered it poor. After rounding, this produced a positive rating of 4 percentage points after rounding.

Asked to rate Mr Albanese, 31 per cent considered his performance to be good while 41 per cent said it was poor, producing a net negative rating of 10 percentage points.

Mr Albanese improved on this measure compared to last month because the number of voters who said he was doing a poor job fell from 47 to 41 per cent.

In a sign the Prime Minister has a higher profile that can produce an advantage on personal measures, only 10 per cent of voters were undecided about Mr Morrison’s performance while 29 per cent were undecided on Mr Albanese.

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