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About the project

The Lowy Institute conducts significant research on Australia's diplomacy, and its long-standing public opinion polling program, the Lowy Institute Poll, has become an important input into Australian foreign policy since 2005. The Institute also runs the Australia-Papua New Guinea Network, an innovative public diplomacy project to foster people-to-people links between the two countries.

Australia is one of the most highly globalised nations on the planet and extremely dependent on an effective and active diplomacy. In a region undergoing rapid and transformational change, where shifting power balances are creating uncertainty about the existing regional order, Australia’s security and prosperity rely heavily on its international networks and relationships with both near neighbours and geographically-distant allies.

Research on Australia's diplomatic network

The Lowy Institute has conducted ground-breaking comparative research on Australia’s diplomacy and that of like-minded nations. It focuses on Australia's diplomatic network and the resourcing of its international policy infrastructure. It has also produced influential studies on public diplomacy, digital diplomacy, and consular affairs. The Institute’s work has been instrumental in shaping a parliamentary enquiry into Australia’s diplomatic network,  providing independent, non-partisan policy options to steer Australia’s diplomatic future. In 2016, the Lowy Institute released the Global Diplomacy Index, an interactive web tool which maps and ranks the diplomatic networks of all G20 and OECD nations. The interactive allows readers to visualise some of the most significant diplomatic networks in the world, see where nations are represented – by city, country, and type of diplomatic mission – and rank countries according to the size of their diplomatic network.

Australia-Papua New Guinea Network

In an important public diplomacy initiative, the Institute runs the Australia-Papua New Guinea Network, a program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to foster people-to-people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea. For more about the Australia-Papua New Guinea network and its activities, access the site here.

The Lowy Institute Poll

To inform the public debate on Australia's foreign policy, the Institute has conducted annual polling of Australian public opinion on foreign policy since 2005. The annual Lowy Institute Poll has become one of the Lowy Institute’s flagship publications. It is the leading tracking survey on Australian foreign policy, providing a reliable vehicle for understanding Australian attitudes towards a wide range of foreign policy issues, while being independent and methodologically rigorous. Over the course of the past decade the Poll has uncovered significant shifts in public sentiment, including towards our most important neighbours and partners. It has tracked attitudes on contentious international issues ranging from climate change to war in the Middle East.

The annual Poll is entirely funded by the Lowy Institute to ensure its ongoing independence, and its questionnaire and results are thoroughly reviewed by one of Australia’s most experienced polling experts, Sol Lebovic, the founder and former managing director of Newspoll. Data sets are deposited with the Australian Social Science Data Archive where they are available free of charge for public scrutiny.

One of the best ways to explore the data from our twelve years of polling is through our interactive site. Access the interactive here.

Alternatively, to download the poll reports for each year, click on these links:

In addition to its Australian polling program, the Lowy Institute has conducted influential polls in several of our most important neighbours in Indo-Pacific Asia, including India (2012), Indonesia (2006 and 2011), New Zealand (2007 and 2012), China (2009) and Fiji (2011).


Latest publications

2017 Lowy Institute Poll

After a turbulent year in global politics, the 2017 Lowy Institute Poll contains thought-provoking findings about how Australians have reacted to world events, and how they feel about the direction of our own nation.

2017 Lowy Institute Poll: Australians say global engagement and US alliance are safe – for now

This time last year, we labelled 2016 a year of polls; the Australian election, the Brexit vote, and the US presidential election dominated the news. It follows, then, that 2017 is a year for assessing the impact of the previous turbulent 12 months.

The 2017 Lowy Institute Poll, released today, finds that Australians have reacted to global events in a typically pragmatic way. But they are troubled about the direction of the world and divided about the way our own nation is travelling.

When asked their views on ‘the way things are going in the world today’, 79% of Australians respond that they are ‘dissatisfied’. And our feeling of safety – though still strong – remains at its lowest point in our 13 years of polling. While nearly four in five feel safe overall, only 20% say they feel ‘very safe’, down four points since last year and a significant 24 points since 2009.

International terrorism (68%) and North Korea’s nuclear program (65%) top the list of ‘critical’ threats to Australia’s vital interests. Climate change ranks third (57% say it’s a critical threat, up 11 points since 2014), along with cyberattacks from other countries (55%), and ahead of a ‘severe downturn in the global economy’ (53%), ‘the presidency of Donald Trump’ (42%), foreign investment (40%), and asylum seeker arrivals (38%).

In line with this rising perception of the threat of climate change, 54% of Australians see global warming as ‘a serious and pressing problem [and] we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’ (up 18 points since 2012). And even in the midst of a fierce debate on energy security, almost all Australians (81%) prioritise government investment in renewables over traditional energy sources such as coal and gas ‘even if this means we may need to invest more in infrastructure to make the system more reliable’. Only 17% say ‘the government should focus on traditional energy sources such as coal and gas’. 

Nearly eight in ten (79%) of Australians see ‘the presidency of Donald Trump’ as a critical or important threat to Australia’s vital interests. The strong implication from the 2016 Poll was that Australians might recoil from the US alliance under a Trump presidency. At the time, nearly half the country (45%) said that ‘Australia should distance itself from the United States if it elects a president like Donald Trump’.

So far, however, the presidency of Donald Trump has not dented Australians’ support for the US alliance. In fact, support for the alliance has rebounded six points since last year with 77% saying the alliance is ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important for Australia’s security. Only 29% now say ‘Australia should distance itself from the United States under President Donald Trump’ (16 points lower than the response to the corresponding question last year). Australians appear to have adjusted quickly to the reality of the Trump administration.

However, Donald Trump was unpopular here before the election and remains unpopular now. Six in ten Australians say Donald Trump causes them to have an unfavourable opinion of the United States. More strikingly, the number of Australians who trust the United States 'a great deal' to act as a responsible global power has halved since 2011. Only 20% of Australians now have a ‘great deal’ of trust in the United States to ‘act responsibly in the world’. The 61% of Australians who trust the United States overall (‘a great deal’ and ‘somewhat’) compares starkly with the 86% who trust Germany and Japan and the 90% who trust the United Kingdom (even after the Brexit vote in 2016, which only 19% of Australians supported).

While support for the US alliance remains strong, the friendship between the two nations is being stretched under the new US administration. When Australians are asked who is their ‘best friend’ in the world, the United States has halved its support since 2014, dropping to second place alongside the United Kingdom (17% nominating each as Australia’s best friend). New Zealand is the clear favourite, with 53% (up 21 points since 2014) nominating it as Australia’s best friend of six countries polled. A gulf has opened up between New Zealand and the rest.

Australians’ pragmatism continues to characterise their attitudes to China. While it falls a long way down on our list of best friends (only 8% of Australians nominating China as our best friend), we continue to see the relationship as vitally important. China and the United States remain on level pegging when we ask which relationship is more important to Australia: in a statistical tie, 45% say the United States and 43% say China. And although almost half (46%) of Australians believe China will become a military threat in the next 20 years (up seven points since 2015), most of them (79%) still see China as more of an economic partner than a military threat.

Perhaps because of that crucial economic relationship, few Australians favour direct confrontation with China. Only 34% of Australians support the use of Australian military forces ‘if China initiated a military conflict with one of its neighbours over disputed islands or territories’. Freedom of navigation operations are seen in a different light, however, with 68% in favour of Australia conducting ‘maritime operations designed to ensure freedom of navigation in the region’.

Australians are far more willing to use our military forces when a conflict is at our own doorstep, or to prevent genocide or combat the terrorist threat. Most (77%) Australians would approve the use of Australian military forces ‘to restore law and order in a Pacific nation’, and 81% are in favour of intervening ‘to provide humanitarian and military support' … ‘if there is another major crisis in the Pacific, such as happened in the Solomon Islands in 2003’. Three quarters (76%) favour the use of Australian military forces ‘to stop a government committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people’, and 61% ‘to fight against violent Islamic extremist groups in Iraq and Syria’. We are divided (45% in favour, 48% against) on the use of Australian forces ‘if North Korea invaded South Korea’ and firmly against (31% in favour vs 62% against) military involvement ‘if Russia invaded one of its neighbours.’

After the events of 2016, it might have been expected that the forces of nationalism and protectionism which gained strength and influenced elections across the Western world would take hold in Australia. However, there is no evidence of this in the 2017 Lowy Institute Poll: 78% of Australians see globalisation as ‘mostly good for Australia’ – 14 points higher than in 2006.  More so than their American counterparts, a majority of Australians see free trade as good for the economy, jobs, our standard of living and Australian companies. Furthermore, optimism about the national economy has risen, with 74% of Australians (up four points since 2016) saying they are optimistic ‘about Australia’s economic performance in the world over the next five years’.

So while the events of the last year have unsettled Australians, they remain surprisingly positive about global engagement, perhaps because of the continued economic upside offered by China. They have adapted quickly to the new US administration, despite their dislike of Donald Trump. They may trust the United States less, but support for the US alliance remains firm.

Our traditional allies find themselves in turbulent times. But while Australians are clearly disturbed about recent events, the 2017 Lowy Institute Poll suggests that, for now at least, our historical predilection for pragmatism over panic is still strong.

Asia in the Age of Uncertainty

In the context of an increasingly demanding security environment in Asia, the Lowy Institute joined with five research partners in Asia Pacific in a six-nation 2016 multinational survey of public opinion in the Asia Pacific.


Anxious about China, unsure about the US: Australians and the 2016 Lowy Institute Poll

It's likely 2016 will be remembered as a year of polls: the Brexit poll this week, the Australian election on 2 July, the US presidential election in November, and even a UN poll to select the next Secretary-General by year end.

The 2016 Lowy Institute Poll, released today, may not be quite on the same scale, but it's an important touchstone on how Australians are thinking about the world. This year, those views appear to be at a critical juncture.

Over the 12 years of Lowy Institute Polling (the first Lowy Poll was taken in 2005), Australians have generally been warm on our close friends in the English-speaking world when asked to rank their feelings towards various countries on a 'thermometer' scale of 0 to 100 degrees. New Zealand, the UK, the US, Canada and Ireland always come top or close to the top when we include them on the thermometer. We have been warm on like-minded nations in Europe and in our region: France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Singapore. We have warm to warmish feelings towards our Pacific neighbours: Fiji, Solomons, East Timor, Papua New Guinea. We have had middling to lukewarm sentiments about a bunch of countries in our region such as Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea. We are cold on the usual suspects: North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Libya. 

And then there is China.

When we ask Australians about China it's always a complicated story. This year, however, it's more complicated than ever, and Australians' attitudes seem to have reached a turning point.

China, our largest trading partner since 2007, is now our 'best friend in Asia', according to Australian adults: 30% nominate China and 25% nominate Japan when we ask them to name our best friend in Asia. Two years ago, when we last asked this question, China and Japan  tied for first place. Yet on the 'feelings thermometer', Australians have always expressed warmer feelings towards Japan than towards China. This year, Japan is rated at 70° and China at 58°. This prompts the question: what exactly do Australians mean by 'friendship', where China is concerned?

China may be our best friend in Asia as of this year, and our largest trading partner since 2007, but it's a friend about which Australians have some serious reservations.

When asked about positive and negative influences on their views of China, Australians are overwhelmingly positive about the Chinese people (85% saying 'Chinese people you have met' are a positive influence), China's culture and history (a positive for 79%), and China's economic growth (a positive for 75%). However, there are some strong negatives too: 86% say 'China's human rights record' is a negative, 79% say 'China's military activities in our region' are a negative, and 73% say China's system of government is a negative. Its environmental record and investment in Australia are also negative influences.

As an illustration of this high level of anxiety about China, a substantial 74% of Australians are in favour of Australia conducting freedom of navigation operations in response to China's activities in the South China Sea.  

On the other side of the Asia Pacific is our other important partner, the US. Australian support for the US alliance has been one of the most consistent features of our polling. The proportion of the Australian population saying the alliance is either 'very', 'fairly' or 'somewhat' important for Australia's security has never slipped below 90% since we first asked this question in 2005. Australians always rate the US quite warmly on the feelings thermometer, with results ranging from a high of  73° last year to a low of 60° in 2007 (towards the end of the George W Bush presidency). This year, it's 68° — down 5°, making the US the only country to record a fall of any significance on the 2016 Lowy Institute thermometer. The alliance too has lost support: 71% say the alliance is 'very' or 'fairly' important for Australia's security. Still high, but down nine points on last year to a nine-year low in Lowy polling history.

Two years ago, when we asked Australians for the first time which relationship was more important — that with the US, or that with China — the US was the clear leader; 48% said the US, and 37% said China was the more important relationship in 2014. Two years later, however, it's a dead heat: in 2016, exactly the same number say China (43%) as say the US (43%) is the more important relationship.

But it's complicated. The Australian population is split down the middle on this question. Younger Australians (under 45) lean towards China, 51% saying it's the more important relationship, with 35% of that age group saying the US is more important. Older Australians (45 and over) see the US relationship as more important, with only 36% of them choosing China.

While we are divided between China and the US and many of us are anxious about China's intentions, we also appear to be quite concerned about what's going on in US politics at the moment. Nearly half (45%) of us say Australia should distance itself from the US if Donald Trump becomes president. Around half (51%) say we should remain close regardless of who is elected president; not a decisive vote of confidence and a result which suggests that the Trump factor may be having an impact on Australian support for the alliance.

Trump is not at all popular here: only 11% of Australians say they would prefer Trump as president, in results from separate Lowy polling in June; 77% prefer Hillary Clinton. And nearly six in ten (59%) say they would be less likely to support Australia 'taking future military action in coalition with the US under Donald Trump' if he wins the presidency. 

Our 2016 polling also has results on the other big votes this year. On the Australian election, the Liberal-Nationals Coalition wins hands down on foreign policy, with Australians preferring it to handle seven of eight key foreign policy issues including national security, the alliance, the economy and asylum seekers. Labor is preferred only on the issue of climate change. 

Australians are also decidedly against Brexit, with 51% in the 'remain' camp, against only 19% on the side of the  'leavers'. And on the last of the big votes this year, Australians are in two minds about Kevin Rudd as UN Secretary-General: 46% saying he would make a good Secretary-General, and 49% saying he would not.

Drawing on the last 12 years of data, this year's Poll highlights some important shifts in the way Australians are thinking about the world and our major global relationships. Our political leaders have their work cut out for them after 2 July.



The Lowy Institute Poll 2016

The 2016 Lowy Institute Poll looks at Australians' reactions to a year of elections − the Australian election, the US presidential election and the selection of a new UN Secretary-General. 

The Poll, the twelfth annual Poll by the Lowy Institute, also examines attitudes to other important issues such as freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, foreign investment in Australian farmland and military engagement in Iraq and Syria. The Poll provides data on how public opinion on some of our most important relationships, including those with China and the United States, is evolving.

To explore the updated 2016 Lowy Poll Interactive, click here. See the full 2016 report below.

2016 Lowy Institute polling: Australian opinion on British exit from European Union

A majority of Australians think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union, according to new Lowy Institute polling. In a decisive result, 51% of Australian adults say the United Kingdom ‘should remain a member of the European Union’, while only 19% say it should leave.

Further, when asked about the impact of Brexit on the European Union, most Australians anticipate that the EU will sustain some damage. Around a third of the population (29%) believe that Brexit ‘will lead to the break-up of the European Union over time’. A significant number (41%) say ‘the European Union will be damaged but it will recover’. Very few say that ‘there will be no impact on the European Union’ (11%). Photo: Flickr user Photography by eje.


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