Guardian Essential poll: 40% of voters say Labor doing poor job tackling surging cost of living

by Katharine Murphy
Half of voters surveyed say they can afford household bills but struggle to find anything extra or report feeling under financial pressure

Just one-quarter of voters think Labor is doing a good job of handling surging cost of living pressures, the latest Guardian Essential poll suggests, while a majority of respondents believe the Albanese government can influence the direction of inflation and interest rates.

The results from the latest survey of 1,082 respondents comes ahead of Wednesday’s inflation data which is expected to show consumer prices are running at their highest level since the 1990s.

The federal treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will deliver his first economic statement to parliament on Thursday which will foreshadow a difficult federal budget in October.

The Guardian Essential poll indicates a majority of Australians believe, even in an era of deregulation, that the government can exert influence over a range of economic factors including debt, the unemployment rate, inflation, fuel prices, workforce supply and interest rates.

The poll also suggests voters are looking for more relief on cost of living pressures, with 40% of respondents saying the new government is doing a poor job. Only 23% rate the performance to date as good, while 37% say the Albanese government’s performance is neither good nor poor.

When asked about their own financial position, more than half of the voters surveyed say they can afford household bills but struggle to find anything extra (39%) or report feeling under financial pressure (17%). Forty-one per cent of respondents report being financially comfortable.

There are gender differences in the responses. Men are more likely than women to say they are financially comfortable, and women are more likely than men to say they feel under financial pressure, or can cover household bills but struggle to afford anything extra.

Coalition voters are also more likely than Labor voters or minor party supporters to report feeling financially comfortable. Minor party supporters are more likely to report feeling under financial pressure.

Labor made stagnant wages growth and rising living costs a focal point of this year’s federal election contest, suggesting those conditions were symptomatic of the Morrison government being out of touch with the struggles of working Australians.

While the new poll points to specific concern about the rising cost of living, voters are comparatively more sanguine, albeit largely still on the fence, about the new government’s performance on a number of other issues.

When it comes to managing the latest Covid-19 outbreak, 36% say the performance is good, 25% say poor and 38% neither good nor poor. On climate change, 33% say good, 21% say poor and 46% say neither good nor poor. When it comes to education, 35% say good, 17% say poor and 48% say neither good nor poor.

Market analysts predict the new annual headline inflation figure released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday could be north of 6%.

The Reserve Bank of Australia says inflation will probably reach 7% by the end of the year and the RBA has hiked the official cash rate in an effort to curb inflation – which means mortgage holders are facing higher repayments.

As well as rising interest rates, consumers are battling high grocery, energy and petrol prices.

The Albanese government says it will end in September a temporary cut in fuel excise implemented by the Morrison government pre-election as a cost of living measure. The finance minister, Katy Gallagher, said on Monday it was not the government’s intention to maintain the cut to fuel excise beyond September.

“We get that people are doing it tough,” Gallagher told Sky News.

“We need to look at what we can do. But the budget is under enormous pressure at the moment and we need to rebalance and make sure that everything we’re spending is quality and it’s driving those productivity improvements across the economy,” she said.

Gallagher said Chalmers’ statement to parliament on Thursday would present an “honest assessment, an honest picture of where we are right now”.

“We inherited increasing interest rates, rising inflation,” the finance minister said. “I mean, that was baked in well before the election, and we’ll get some updates from that.”

She said the government’s objective was “to get wages moving” but she acknowledged it would be difficult for wages to keep pace with inflation “at the moment”.

“But we do need to get wages moving so that people can get some help with the cost of living pressures that they’re under right now,” she said.