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Voters hardly jumping for joy over budget

by
May 17, 2018

A host of opinion polls have provided a mixed reaction to the 2018 federal budget.

"You've got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

Like the classic, and often misquoted line from Clint Eastwood's 1970s Dirty Harry movie, a stack of opinion polls and consumer surveys released this week asked voters - rather than punks - how they felt about the federal budget.

Results were mixed and contradictory while the Turnbull government failed to get a major budget fillip and still lags Labor to varying degrees, depending on which poll you look at.

One clear winner - according to Newspoll at least - was Malcolm Turnbull, leaping further ahead of Labor leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister.

But it is not clear whether it was the result of the budget or the outrage over Labor MPs falling foul of the never-ending dual citizenship farce.

The Newspoll found 29 per cent of voters thought they would be better off financially after the budget pledged $13.4 billion in personal income tax cuts over the next four years and $140 billion over the next decade.

However, 27 per cent would be worse off.

Slightly more in a Fairfax/Ipsos poll - 38 per cent - thought they would be better off from the three-stage tax plan that will initially provide a $530 tax cut for the average wage earner.

Yet the Essential Research survey found fewer people - 25 per cent - saying it would make a difference to their household budget.

Over half of that online survey thought those who are already better off would gain the most from the budget and less than a quarter thought it was good for them personally.

But at the same time, while over half thought the budget was in the national interest, in another question almost two-thirds thought the budget was more about improving the government's popularity than improving the economy.

Consumer confidence surveys - pointers to future retail spending - were just as muddled.

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan confidence index rose for a fifth straight to a 14-week high, but the monthly Westpac-Melbourne Institute sentiment index declined.

The latter survey found just 10 per cent of consumers expect the budget to improve their finances, 58 per cent saw no change and 19 per cent said their position would worsen.

Westpac chief economist Bills Evans nicely summed up the results.

"While the overall balance is negative, it is less negative than last year and the 'best' response we have seen since we began running this question in 2010."

At least it gives Treasurer Scott Morrison something to brag about - that his third budget was better than those of his Liberal predecessor Joe Hockey and the last three by Labor's Wayne Swan.

Evans thought the lack of budget enthusiasm could be that the planned tax reductions will not impact family finances until beyond the next tax year.

The new low and middle-income tax offset of up to $530 kicks off in the 2018/19 financial year starting July 1 but will only be received as a lump sum after an individual lodges their tax return for that year.

In the meantime, consumers continue to struggle with puny wage rises while prices for essential day-to-day items, like petrol, are on the rise.

Figures this week showed wages growth grew by 0.5 per cent in the first three months of this year, keeping the annual rate at 2.1 per cent, only just above the rate of inflation and close to a two-decade low.

Optimists point to numbers in the March quarter report showing that when bonuses are included, the annual rate is 2.6 per cent.

But who's lucky enough to get a bonus?

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