Essential poll: two-thirds of Australians think Canberra is victim in trade war with Beijing

This article is more than 1 month old

The last survey of 2020 also suggests vaccine hesitancy has increased with just 43% saying they would get Covid jab as soon as possible

A giant truck at a NSW coalmine
A giant haul truck at a Hunter Valley coalmine. The trade dispute between Beijing and Canberra has seen import restrictions placed on Australian coal bound for China. Photograph: REUTERS
A giant haul truck at a Hunter Valley coalmine. The trade dispute between Beijing and Canberra has seen import restrictions placed on Australian coal bound for China. Photograph: REUTERS
Political editor

Last modified on Mon 14 Dec 2020 11.32 EST

Almost half of the respondents in the Guardian Essential poll think Australia needs to back away from its close relationship with China, and a majority thinks Canberra is an innocent victim of trade sanctions from Beijing, rather than inviting aggression.

In the final Guardian Essential poll for 2020, 49% of the sample of 1,071 respondents thinks Australia needs to become less close to China after months of escalating rhetorical and economic disputation, and 62% believe Australia is a victim in the trade war rather than making itself a target by the government publicly criticising the Chinese regime (38%).

A majority (56%) also backs Scott Morrison for publicly demanding an apology from Beijing after an official Chinese social media account posted a fake image of an Australian soldier threatening to kill a child – a reference to the Brereton review which unearthed credible evidence of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

But the Guardian Essential sample is split – with 44% of respondents thinking Morrison should have let that issue be handled through diplomatic channels.

The final voter survey for the year also indicates Morrison suffered a four-point drop in approval (down to 62%) and a three-point increase in voter disapproval (up to 28%) during the period where the diplomatic dispute between Canberra and Beijing intensified and the Coalition unveiled controversial industrial relations changes.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, who signalled plans to block any move by the government to allow workers wages to be cut, recorded a three-point rise in his personal approval (up to 43%) and a four drop in his disapproval (down to 29%) between November and December.

Morrison ends 2020 comfortably ahead of his opponent as better prime minister 50% to 24%, but the prime minister’s standing on that measure dropped three points in a month, with more voters moving to the “don’t know” column (26%). The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus three points.

Voters in the survey were asked to reflect on the tumultuous events of the past 12 months, and the results suggest that people think 2020 has been a negative year for the economy, for small business, and for average Australians. The only experiences tabulated in the positive column were people’s workplaces and their families.

Voters gave a negative rating to the Australian government and to politics in general, but compared to viscerally negative sentiment tracked in previous years, voters were comparatively more positive about both the government and politics in general.

Australians continue to be worried about the state of the economy, with just 18% of the sample predicting that conditions will pick up within two to three months and things will return to how they were pre-Covid.

While the latest data suggests Australia has clambered out of recession, just under half the respondents (43%) predict the economy will remain in the doldrums for six to 12 months and then economic growth will be slow or stagnant, while 22% fear there will be a lengthy recession and the pandemic will create long-lasting economic scars.

While people are clearly pessimistic, the responses are marginally more upbeat than they were when the questions were last put in April, which was during the peak of the first wave of infections. Coalition voters are more inclined to be optimistic than other voting cohorts.

But there is more uncertainty now about the trajectory of the economy than there was back in April. Now 17% of the sample say they are unsure how the economy will rebound following Covid-19, up from 10%.

The survey also suggests vaccine hesitancy might have increased as the early candidates are rolled out in the United Kingdom and the US. Compared with responses earlier in the year, 43% of respondents say they would get a vaccine as soon as possible, down from 56% in August.

Under half the sample (46%) say they will get a vaccination but not straight away (35% said this in August) and 10% say they would never get vaccinated. Men and voters aged over 55 are more likely to say they will get a vaccination quickly after it is made available.

Voters were also asked what they thought of industrial relations reforms pursued by Coalition governments. More than half the sample thinks the Liberals pursue reforms that favour businesses and employers (52%), while only 17% think they favour employees.

A majority in the sample thinks the government proposal to require employers to offer permanency to their long-term casuals would be beneficial to workers, with 57% endorsing the statement: “The law should be changed now to make it easier for casual workers to become permanent employees if they want to, so they have greater certainty in their lives.”

But there is a sizeable minority of voters in the sample (43%) who believe now is not the right time to make these changes. That group agreed with the statement: “Now is not the right time to make changes to the rules for casual workers, because economic uncertainty means there needs to be as much flexibility in the workplace as possible.”