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The Lowy Institute conducts significant research on public opinion around the world. Its long-standing public opinion polling program, the Lowy Institute Poll, has become an important input into Australian foreign policy since 2005.

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 China’s rise.

The annual Poll is entirely funded by the Lowy Institute to ensure its ongoing independence, and its questionnaire and results are thoroughly reviewed by independent consultants. 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 sixteen years of polling is through our interactive site. Access the interactive here. Copies of the previous Lowy Institute polls are available here.

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

Lowy Institute Poll: Most Australians would back tougher target to win agreement in Paris

As Paris prepares for the arrival of delegates from 196 countries who will take part in international climate negotiations next week, Lowy Institute Polling suggests the majority of adult Australians (62%) have given the Turnbull Government the green light to strengthen its commitment on emission reductions, if that's what it takes to reach a global agreement.

Only 36% of the 1002 people who took part in the latest Lowy Institute Poll were of the the view the government should 'stick to its target regardless of what other countries do'. The national telephone poll took place between 25 October and 4 November.

Lowy Institute Executive Director Dr Michael Fullilove said: 'It’s very clear that Australians want our government to contribute to a global agreement on climate change in Paris, if necessary by committing to stronger emissions reduction targets'.

The poll result comes after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a little noticed move on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit  that appeared to open up some ground between his government's stance on climate change negotiations, and that of his predecessor.

A joint statement issued by Turnbull with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, included a commitment to secure an agreement in Paris with a long-term goal. 

The Climate Institute's Erwin Jackson told the Fairfax Press this was the first time the Government has explicitly supported a long term carbonisation signal as a clear objective for Paris.                                           

As Jackson wrote in 'Paris Climate Talks: The World has changed since Copenhagen', the Paris negotiations seek to establish an agreement for a new common international framework that will drive domestic action.

However the Lowy Institute Poll suggested that while the majority of Australians are hoping for a decisive outcome from Paris, they are divided on the best policy solution at home.

When asked to choose between two alternatives, the current Direct Action scheme that pays business for emissions reductions projects, and the introduction of a price on carbon or an emissions trading scheme, 51%  of Australians favoured Direct Action while 43% opted for an ETS or price on carbon.

The Lowy Institute Poll also found concern about climate change continues to grow. Just over half of Australians (52%) indicated they believe global warming is a a 'serious and pressing problem' and we should take steps now, 'even if this involves a significant cost'.

The shift in opinion on climate change has been one of the most dramatic trends recorded over the course of the Lowy Institute Poll. It began asking Australians about climate change in 2006, asking survey participants to select the response which most closely mirrors their point of view: 

  • Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.
  • The problem of global warming should be addressed, but its effects will be gradual, so we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost.
  • Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs.

As demonstrated in the table below, concern about global warming was highest in 2006, a year of severe drought in Australia. Over the next few years, the sense of urgency abated but then opinion turned again. The Lowy Institute has recorded an upward trend in successive polls since 2012.

2015 Lowy Institute polling: Views on climate action ahead of United Nations climate negotiations in Paris

As the world begins negotiations at the Paris international climate negotiations next week, the majority of adult Australians (62%) say the Government should be prepared to make stronger commitments on emissions reductions in the interests of reaching a global agreement, according to Lowy Institute polling conducted last month. Only 36% say the government should ‘stick to its target regardless of what other countries do’.

The telephone poll, conducted between 25 October and 4 November this year, confirmed the upward trend in concern about climate change which the Lowy Institute has recorded in successive polls since 2012. 

More than half of the Australian population – 52% – now say global warming is ‘a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’.  This is an increase of 16 percentage points since 2012.

Despite this rising concern, Australians are divided on the best economic policy to deal with the problem of carbon emissions.

When forced to choose between the current Direct Action scheme and a price on carbon or emissions trading scheme, marginally more Australians (51%) say we should ‘continue the Government’s Direct Action plan which pays businesses for emissions reduction projects’. Nevertheless, despite the abolition of the carbon tax in 2014, a surprising 43% would prefer that the Australian Government ‘introduce an emissions trading scheme or price on carbon, where people pay for their carbon emissions’.

Time for a stronger U.S.-Australia alliance?

In the wake of a report from CSIS and ANU calling for a stronger US alliance refocused on the Asia Pacific, Alex Oliver examines the eleven years of Lowy Institute polling on attitudes to the US alliance, and cautions that, despite Australians' strong support for the alliance, any refocusing of the alliance to the Asia region will require strong advocacy to win over a nervous public. The article, published in the National Interest, can be accessed here

Time for a stronger U.S.-Australia alliance?

In the wake of a report from CSIS and ANU calling for a stronger US alliance refocused on the Asia Pacific, Alex Oliver examines the eleven years of Lowy Institute polling on attitudes to the US alliance, and cautions that, despite Australians' strong support for the alliance, any refocusing of the alliance to the Asia region will require strong advocacy to win over a nervous public. The article, published in the National Interest, can be accessed here

The 2015 Lowy Institute Poll: What does it all mean?

The 2015 Lowy Institute Poll was released this morning. It's the eleventh annual Lowy Institute Poll.

It goes without saying that every year there are some fascinating results which shine a light on how Australians feel about critical foreign policy issues. With our established tracking questions, such as those about support for the US alliance or attitudes to global warming, the Poll also points out the longer-term trends in Australians' thinking on some of the complex challenges we face as a nation and a globe.

What is harder each year is to draw out some overarching 'theme', to try to articulate and summarise what the Poll says about the  direction or mood of the nation, at least insofar as it relates to the rest of the world. It's possible, of course, that there is no such theme: that Australians' responses to 30-odd questions about Australia's international relations do not encapsulate the national mood. On the other hand, maybe those responses do in fact give some valuable clues about our worldview. Either way, one of the questions asked around here between March and June is: what does it all mean?

The answer, in 2015, is that the world seems to be a bleak place to many Australians. Fewer Australians feel safe now that any any time during our 11-year polling history. Only 24% of Australian adults say they feel 'very safe' this year, 18 points down from the 42% who felt very safe when we last asked them in 2010.

Apart from feeling more insecure, Australians' optimism about their economy is at its lowest point since our first poll in 2005. Only 63% of Australians are either 'optimistic' or 'very optimistic' about Australia's 'economic performance in the world over the next five years'. This is 23 points lower than the peaks of 86% recorded in 2009-10 at the height of the financial crisis, and the single largest fall in optimism the Poll has recorded.

One doesn't need to look too far in our other results this year for the probable cause of this bleak outlook. It appears the threat of terrorism is being keenly felt here, after the Martin Place siege late last year and the gruesome scenes and confronting news coming out of Iraq and Syria. Terrorism-related risks rank first, second and third out of eight potential risks to Australia's security in the next ten years, with 69% of Australians rating 'the emergence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria' as a high risk to our security (the highest-ranked risk), and majorities seeing 'terrorist attacks on Australians overseas' and 'home-grown terrorism in Australia' as high risk. By comparison, risks of conflict in our region rank far lower in Australians' threat perceptions, with 'maritime disputes between China and its neighbours in Asian territorial seas' seen as  high risk by only 26% of Australians.

As speculation grows about Australia making further commitments to the US-led military effort in Iraq, it appears Australians may well back such commitments. Most of them (69%) support Australia's participation in military action against Islamic State in Iraq (air strikes and training and support to Iraqi forces), even though a majority believe that such participation increases the risk of terrorism to Australia now, and only 20% say it makes us safer from terrorism in the future.

Despite the bleak picture painted by Australians in this year's Poll, there is one group among them who have a slightly brighter outlook, and that's the group sometimes known as 'millennials' or generation Y (18-29 year-olds in our polling).

With 70% of Australians aged 18-29 feeling optimistic about Australia's economic performance overall (compared with only 54% of those aged 30 and over), it's clear these younger Australians have a brighter economic outlook. More of them feel a bit safer as well (85%, vs 78% of those older). As a group, their views are quite different from those of their elders in many other ways. In the lead-up to the Paris climate conference later this year, they are more likely to say the Government should make significant commitments on emissions reductions in those negotiations, so that other countries will be encouraged to do the same (70% vs 61% 30- years). They are less opposed to Chinese investment in residential real estate (55% saying there is too much investment from China, vs 74% of 30- years). They are less likely to support the recent cuts to the aid budget (33% in support, compared with 58% of 30- years). They are more likely to say the Australian Government should play an active role in pushing for the abolition of the death penalty internationally (62% vs 50% of 30- years). Surprisingly, they are more likely to see the US playing a more important and powerful role as a world leader in the future (15% vs 8% of 30- years).

Their views about world leaders are also revealing. Among our list of ten world leaders, US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is admired by fewer 18-29 year-olds (59% admire her) than their 30- years  counterparts (81% of whom admire her). Millennials are much less likely to admire the Pope (56% vs 78% 30- years). They appear to be less well-informed about international leaders than their elders: 63% of 18-29s 'don't know' Xi Jinping (compared with 50% of 30- years); 53% don't know Joko Widodo (vs 39% 30-) and 19% don't know Vladimir Putin (vs 5% 30-) when asked whether they admire these leaders.

This is also the age group which has become somewhat notorious in the context of the Lowy Institute Poll for their attitudes to democracy, with less than half of them (49% this year) saying 'democracy is preferable to any other kind of government'.

There is a statement often attributed to Churchill (probably incorrectly) along the lines of 'if you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart; if you are not a conservative at 30, you have no head'. It's possible these differing attitudes of younger Australians derive from youthful idealism or rebelliousness. It's possible their lack of knowledge, such as their relative ignorance of world leaders' names, derives simply from their youth rather than from any more sinister self-absorption or insularity.

Either way, the more positive and optimistic outlook of these young Australians brings a modicum of relief from the more gloomy worldview of the rest of the Australian population. 

Photo by Flickr user Crawford Learmonth.

Lowy Institute Poll 2015

After a year marked by an unusual intensity in Australia’s interactions with the world, the 2015 Lowy Institute Poll includes findings from a mix of new questions together with established tracking questions on some of the critical issues of our time.

In this year’s Poll, we asked Australians about risks to Australia’s security such as terrorism and the risk of military conflict in our region. The Poll investigates attitudes to military participation in Iraq, the role the Government should play in the upcoming international climate negotiations, views on foreign investment in real estate, feelings about nations such as China and Indonesia, and attitudes to a range of foreign leaders.

In the eleven years of the Lowy Institute Poll, our goal has been to broaden and deepen the debate about Australia’s foreign policy, based on real data on how Australians think about the world. The 2015 Lowy Institute Poll continues this tradition, with a fascinating set of new results. To explore the 2015 Lowy Poll Interactive, click below.

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