The Covid-19 recession weighed more heavily on voters’ minds than the health impacts of the pandemic in 2020, according to new issues polling from the Australia Institute.
In five surveys of 1,000 Australians conducted since the middle of the year the progressive thinktank found voters nominated the economy as the most important issue, followed by health, with other concerns including climate change rising in importance towards December.
The polling sets the stage for a political contest in 2021 likely to be dominated by the economic recovery, although management of health outcomes including the continued suppression of the coronavirus and rollout of vaccines will be critical to both.
On average across the five months from August, 41% of respondents said the economy was the number one national political issue, followed by 27% who said health and 10% who said climate change.
Other issues registered only in the single digits, including national security (5%), the environment (5%), corruption (4%), inequality (3%), education (3%) and Indigenous disadvantage (1%).
Concern about the economy peaked in October at 48%, in the final weeks of the Victorian lockdown and the first full month of reduced rates of federal government payments jobkeeper and jobseeker, before falling to 37% in December.
Concern about health began at 35% in August at the height of the Victoria’s second Covid-19 wave but dropped to 23% in December.
Climate change was a priority for just 7% in August before increasing to 13% in December; while national security increased from 3% to 8% in that time.
Older people were more likely to identify the economy and health as the most important national political issue, while younger people were more likely to name the environment and education.
The economy was most likely to be selected as the most important national political issue by Coalition (50%), One Nation (48%) and independent/other voters (48%).
Labor and Greens voters tended to be evenly split between health and the economy, 33% to 35% and 19% to 22% respectively.
In 2020 the Australian economy entered its first recession in 29 years, began to recover with growth of 3.3% in the September quarter, but remains four years away from achieving pre-pandemic unemployment levels.
On Wednesday Anthony Albanese signalled that Labor would argue it deserves to be elected because it had been “responsible” and “constructive” during the pandemic while having a better plan for the economic recovery.
“We want an economic recovery that actually works for Australians and doesn’t leave people behind and allows people not just to build back to what was there, but to build an even stronger Australia, a fairer Australia,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
On 8 December Scott Morrison told the final Coalition party room meeting of the year the government had delivered “the greatest level of income support to this country we have ever seen”.
The prime minister said the economic “comeback” had begun and the economy had already emerged “more resilient”.
Speaking of the challenges the government would face in 2021, Morrison nominated aged care, “international uncertainties” in the region, the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, getting young people into jobs, and skills reforms.