Tony Abbott has sought to calm backbenchers spooked by voters' angry rejection of the Budget by wrongly claiming that John Howard's government also suffered in the eyes of the people after its first Budget in 1996.
The Budget has propelled Labor to a 56-44 two-party-preferred lead over the Government in the Nielsen poll and 55-45 in Newspoll.
Mr Abbott has also lost the preferred PM status to Bill Shorten, with the Opposition Leader preferred by 51 per cent of respondents in the Nielsen poll over Mr Abbott's 40 per cent. In Newspoll, Mr Shorten enjoys a 44-34 advantage over Mr Abbott on preferred PM status.
With some Liberals beginning to privately question Mr Abbott's judgment, the Prime Minister said voters' reaction was to be expected.
"If you go back to 1996, the last tough Budget, the Howard government, of which I was then a pretty junior member, suffered a massive hit in the polls," he said.
"But it was right and necessary for our country. It set us up for a decade of unprecedented prosperity, and it also demonstrated that the Howard government had the political courage and the economic credentials to be a good long-term government."
In fact, the Howard government emerged from the 1996 Budget with its political fortunes improved.
Newspoll's post-Budget poll 18 years ago recorded a three-point increase in the coalition primary vote to 50 per cent.
Nielsen recorded a small increase in the two-party vote for the coalition after the August 1996 Budget to 52-48, rising to 55-45 a month later.
And whereas Mr Howard did not lose the preferred PM status in Newspoll until 19 months after he won office (21 months in Nielsen), Mr Abbott has lost this status in both polls within eight months.
Liberal MPs are surprised at the strength of voters' rejection of the Budget. One said the need for harsh measures had been inadequately sold to counter a slew of broken promises. Labor has unleashed a hard-hitting advertising campaign, asserting that Mr Abbott "lied" before the election.
In a blow to the Government, Clive Palmer yesterday joined the ALP and the Greens in opposing a proposed $7 Medicare co-payment on bulk-billed visits to the doctor.