Half of voters say budget designed to win election as Labor takes 11-point lead on economic management

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivers his post budget National Press Club address in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, March 30, 2022.
Josh Frydenberg delivers his post budget National Press Club address. Only 25% of poll respondents say the budget has made them more likely to vote for the Coalition, and a further 19% say it has made them less likely. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Only a quarter of Guardian Essential respondents think the Morrison government’s cash splash budget is good for them personally, and just over half (56%) think the budget’s primary purpose is to help the Coalition win the coming election.

The new poll findings come as shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, sharpens Labor’s criticism of last week’s budget as “self-obsessed, short-term, and out-of-touch with reality”, warning that sticking to the status quo will entrench a “wasted decade” of lost economic opportunities.

The latest poll of 1,086 respondents suggests Australians are voters are worried about rising consumer prices (61% of respondents rate that as their top issue) but only 33% say the specific budget measures, which include cash payments for low and middle income earners and a cut to fuel excise, would make a significant difference.

While historically the Coalition has a political edge over Labor on questions of economic management, Labor currently has an 11-point lead on the most salient indicator.

Asked which political party they trusted more to address rising cost of living pressure, 38% of respondents nominated Labor, 27% said the Coalition, and 35% said the party made no difference. A super majority of respondents (88%) said they believed governments still exerted a lot or a little influence on the direction of household expenses (only 12% said governments were powerless).

While the Morrison government was hopeful the budget would deliver a bounce to carry the government into an election contest, now just days away, the positive political impact of the Coalition’s pre-election economic statement appeared to be negligible.

Only 25% of respondents said the budget had made them more likely to vote for the Coalition, and a further 19% said less likely. Half the Guardian Essential sample said the budget measures would have no impact on their vote.

Voting intention figures, calculated by Guardian Essential, now express the head-to-head metric of the major party contest as two-party preferred “plus”, rather than the standard two-party preferred measure. This change in methodology, adopted after the 2019 election, highlights the proportion of undecided voters in any survey, providing accuracy on the limits of any prediction.

In the latest results, the Coalition’s primary vote is 37%, Labor is on 36%, the Greens are on 10%, independents and others are on 5%, the United Australia party is on 3% and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party is on 4%. In the poll a fortnight ago, Labor’s primary vote was 37% (up from 35% in the previous survey) and the Coalition’s was 37% (up from 36%), with 7% of respondents undecided.

Labor is currently on 50% (up from 48%), the Coalition on 45% (up from 44%), with 5% of respondents undecided (down from 7%) on the latest two-party preferred “plus” measure. A fortnight ago Labor was on 48% (down from 49% in the previous survey) and the Coalition, 44% (steady), with 7% of respondents undecided.

The major parties are now in full campaign mode, with the leaders and frontbenchers barnstorming marginal seats around the country. With the real contest imminent, Scott Morrison is attempting to shrug off renewed criticism about the controversial Cook preselection in 2007.

Morrison and Anthony Albanese will make pitches to the politically influential farm lobby, the National Farmers Federation, on Tuesday. Speaking at his traditional budget-in-reply speech later in Canberra, Chalmers will target the political nature of the Coalition’s budget, accusing treasurer Josh Frydenberg of a budget that was “conceived as a prop for the election”.

He will also adopt an attack line made famous by Kevin Rudd before the 2007 election when he sought to neutralise economic management as a political issue, saying the Howard government’s “reckless spending” needed to stop.

“To paraphrase another Queenslander – I say this to Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg: this reckless rorting and wasteful spending must stop,” Chalmers will say, according to draft excerpts of his speech.

“If it’s not the time to flick a switch to austerity, it is the time to flick a switch to quality.”

Chalmers labelled the Coalition the “most wasteful government since federation”, pointing to $5.5bn for submarines “that will never be built”, and grant money going to sports rorts, car parks and “dodgy” land deals.

“[This is] the worst set of books ever presented before an election – a budget riddled with rorts and choc-full of wasteful spending, a treasurer personally culpable for tens of billions of emergency support for businesses which didn’t need it,” Chalmers says.

He said there had been a $103.6bn improvement to the budget bottom line as a result of commodity price rises, “but still $1.169tn worth of generational debt without a generational dividend.”

“The wrong response to this uncertainty, this context, this backdrop – is to continue on the current course and cling to the status quo,” he says.

“The most damaging thing Australia could do right now, the biggest economic and social harm we could inflict, would be to accept flatlining wages, soaring prices, tepid investment and weak growth – as our best-case scenario, our new normal.

“That’s not stability, that’s stagnation.”

Chalmers has also talked up the Labor party’s pledge to increase funding to the aged care sector, saying the opposition’s commitment to aged care and childcare made up only one-fifth of the new spending decisions unveiled in the Coalition’s latest budget.

“When it comes to value for money it’s hard to think of a better investment than in aged care.”

“It has been disappointing but not surprising to see the lengths this government will go to, to deny people decent care, decent food and decent wages.”