Turnbull's Honeymoon Extended as Shorten Slumps in Aussie Poll

  • New leader widens margin as nation's preferred prime minister
  • Poll puts pressure on Labor's Shorten as popularity drops

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s honeymoon with voters is becoming entrenched, with a poll showing he’s widening the margin over Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as preferred Australian leader.

Turnbull, who took power in a ballot of his Liberal Party lawmakers 10 weeks ago, leads Shorten as preferred prime minister by 64 percent to 15 percent, up from a 43-point margin two weeks ago, according to the Newspoll published in The Australian on Tuesday. His Liberal-National coalition remains ahead on 53 percent to Labor’s 47 percent and is on track to win elections due by the end of next year.

Voters are embracing Turnbull’s inclusive and socially progressive brand of politics after turning away from his predecessor Tony Abbott, whose combative style, spending cuts and gaffes led to a slump in the government’s popularity. While the new leader faces challenges crafting a cohesive economic policy, political analyst John Warhurst said the coalition’s lead appeared to be taking root.

“Turnbull’s popularity among voters isn’t a flash in the pan and should continue in the longer term,” said Warhurst, of the Australian National University in Canberra. “His government is now in a very strong position.”

Former banker Turnbull, 61, returned at the weekend from his first major international tour and meetings with leaders including President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel amid heightened safety concerns in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. In a speech on national security Tuesday, the prime minister said there were no plans to increase Australia’s presence in the Middle East, where it’s involved in coalition air strikes against Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq and training for Iraq’s army.

“This is not a time for gestures or machismo,” Turnbull said in his Canberra speech to Parliament. “Calm, clinical, professional, effective: that’s how we defeat this menace.”

The rise of Turnbull -- a republican who wants to cut Australia’s ties with Britain and is a supporter of gay marriage -- has bolstered business and consumer confidence. The world’s 12th-largest economy has been buffeted by slowing demand for its resources from China, its largest trading partner. He’s paving the way for changes to the tax system, including potentially increasing a levy on goods and services to help fund cuts to income and company taxes.

Support for Shorten, which dropped 3 points from the previous poll, is the lowest of any Labor leader in 12 years. The poll of 1,573 voters, conducted Nov. 19-22, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The former union leader has struggled for momentum since Turnbull’s rise, with his unpopularity among voters raising questions on whether he remains leader at the election.

“Shorten’s colleagues will certainly be getting worried,” Warhurst said. “In his favor to remaining leader, there’s no obvious alternative.”

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