Labor's standing in regional Australia is in tatters, with an online opinion poll delivering a fresh blow to the beleaguered party.
Readers have used Fairfax Regional Media’s inaugural national poll, Election 2013: Hot or Not?, to deliver a resounding vote of no confidence in Labor and its leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Less than 30 per cent of those who participated said they would vote for Labor at the September election. Asked to rate Ms Gillard’s performance as Prime Minister, a devastating 62 per said it had been poor or very poor. In another body blow, one in three didn’t even know the government’s key salesman in the bush, Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean, existed.
The snub suggests the billions of dollars thrown at regional infrastructure projects– a key sweetener in Labor’s 2010 minority government agreement with independent rural MPs – has failed to sway voters.
The poll, which attracted 3200 responses, was designed to gauge the political temperature of rural and regional Australia.
Dr Troy Whitford, a political scientist with Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, said Labor had repeatedly neglected opportunities to better connect with regional residents.
“Labor needs to run candidates who are local people; those people have to be prepared to run over a long period of time to build up voter confidence and they need good money to campaign,” Dr Whitford said.
“They are three things Labor hasn’t been able to deliver to the bush in quite some time.”
Survey participants overwhelmingly backed the Coalition: nearly 55 per cent said they would back it at the ballot box. But the results weren’t all positive for Tony Abbott.
More than 43 per cent thought the Opposition Leader’s performance had been very poor or poor. On a brighter note, Mr Abbott secured the prized position as preferred Prime Minister, with Malcolm Turnbull coming in second.
In a surprise result, just 13.5 per cent of respondents said Kevin Rudd was their preferred PM.
Most respondents said economic management, trust and leadership, health and education, immigration and the environment were the five most important issues they would consider when voting on September 14.
The National Broadband Network, which promises to transform the way regional Australia works and plays, was not the vote-winner the government might have hoped it would be, ranked the least important election issue out of 10 options.
Dr Whitford said water policy loomed as a key election issue for regional Australia.
“You can’t go too far out this way and not talk water,” he said.
“The whole idea of building more dams should be a genuine policy debate in this campaign. The regions have been through drought, some people lost properties, others almost did and towns almost ran out of water.
“Building dams is good politics because it’s infrastructure and policy people can see.”
Fairfax Regional Media’s Election 2013: Hot or Not? opinion poll will be conducted monthly.