Turnbull government takes poll tumble

The government is not ahead in Newspoll for the first time since Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister. AAP/Dan Peled

The Turnbull government has lost its lead in the latest Newspoll, which has the Coalition and Labor 50-50% in the two-party preferred vote and the ALP’s negative gearing policy going down well in the electorate.

The is the first time the government has not been ahead in Newspoll since October, shortly after Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister.

The poll, published in Monday’s Australian, found the opposition’s plan to restrict negative gearing to new housing is favoured by 47% and opposed by 31%.

The Coalition’s primary vote is down three points to 43%; Labor has risen one point to 35%; the Greens are up one point to 12%.

In the late January Newspoll, the Coalition had a comfortable two-party lead of 53-47%.

Although Turnbull retains big margins over Bill Shorten in the personal ratings, his numbers have fallen. His net satisfaction has fallen from 22 points to ten points while Shorten’s net satisfaction improved from minus 35 points to minus 29 points.

In mid-November Turnbull’s net satisfaction was 38 points.

Turnbull’s rating as better prime minister was down from 59% to 55%, while Shorten’s rose one point to 21%.

The Coalition’s poll fall follows a vacuum in its tax policy, as it abandoned the prospect of a package based on a higher GST and big income tax cuts, and is still scrambling for alternatives to make up a more modest package, which will be in the budget.

The numbers will unsettle Coalition backbenchers and likely make them more nervous and vocal about what the government might touch in superannuation and negative gearing.

The Coalition places particular store on Newspoll. When he launched his challenge against Tony Abbott, Turnbull cited the government’s trailing in 30 Newspolls.

Labor, which has been praised in the media for producing policies, will be particularly heartened by the reaction to its negative gearing initiative, which is controversial and has been blasted by the government and some interest groups. The Coalition has launched a scare campaign about what it would do to the price of existing housing – even though the policy, which would start in mid-2017, would grandfather investments already made in existing houses.

The government is stepping up its pace of activity in this sitting fortnight. Early this week it plans to release changes to the Senate voting system, which would squeeze out micro players, and at the end of the week it will put out the long-awaited white paper on defence.

The government is keeping open the option of a double-dissolution election, which would have to be called by May 11 – the day after the budget.