The Lowy Institute Poll 2013
The ninth annual Lowy Institute Poll reports the results of a nationally representative survey of 1,002 Australian adults conducted by mobile and fixed-line telephone in Australia between 4 and 20 March 2013.
The 2013 Poll rated the major political parties on a range of key foreign policy issues in the lead-up to the 2013 election. Other signficant issues covered in the Poll include: the comparative importance of China and the United States to Australia; support for the US alliance and US bases; attitudes towards China, the economy, boat arrivals and offshore processing; support for action on climate change, and views on the Afghanistan war, WikiLeaks and terrorism.
- By a margin of more than two to one, Australians think the Coalition would do a better job than Labor on handling five of eight key foreign policy issues: managing the economy, foreign investment, asylum seekers, the US alliance and national security.
- 76% of Australians identify China as the most important economy to Australia at the moment (up 13 points since 2009), compared with 16% identifying the United States (down 11 points). However, more Australians place a higher value on our relationship with the United States (48% say the US is more important, compared with 37% saying China).
- Support for the US alliance remains extremely high at 82%, and basing US forces in Australia is an increasingly popular policy, favoured by 61% (up 6 points from 2011).
The Lowy Institute Poll is one of the pillars of the Institute’s work.
When we initiated the Poll in 2005, we had two goals. The first was to shake up the view that international policy is the sole preserve of elites and experts. The second was to provide some actual data on what Australians think about the world. For too long, politicians and commentators had made sweeping assertions, unsupported by evidence, about public opinion on international issues.
Over the past nine years, the Poll has identified significant shifts in public sentiment, including towards our most important neighbours and partners. We have found out what Australians think about highly controversial international issues, such as wars in the Middle East.
On some issues, such as climate change, public attitudes have moved dramatically over the years. Australians’ feelings towards other countries have warmed in some cases (for example, feelings towards the United States as the Bush presidency ended) and cooled in other cases (for example, feelings towards North Korea and Iran).
In 2013, a federal election year, we have asked Australians which political party they believe would do a better job of handling key foreign policy issues.
We have also tested Australians’ views on the momentous changes occurring in the Asian region. The federal government’s Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, launched at the Lowy Institute in October 2012, described this transformation as ‘a defining development of our time’.
The biggest preoccupation for Australia’s policymakers in coming decades will be managing the strategic triangle formed between Washington, Beijing and Canberra. Our most important economic partner, China, is a competitor of our great strategic ally, the United States. Our polling in the past has found that a significant number of Australians think China will eventually become a military threat to Australia. It has also demonstrated the premium Australians attach to our alliance relationship with the United States.
Some commentators argue that Australia has to choose between these two countries. However, the 2013 Poll reveals that a large majority of Australians believe it is possible to have good relations with the United States and China at the same time.
This year’s Poll also contains very interesting results on Australians’ economic optimism and their views about responding to a rising Asia and combatting terrorism.
Finally, the 2013 Poll provides further insights into the differences between younger and older Australians when it comes to international issues. Less than half of 18–29-year-old Australians, or ‘millennials’ as they are sometimes known, believe that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government. Young Australians tend to be more optimistic about the economy than their older counterparts. As a generation, they are less supportive of the US alliance and US bases in Australia and are less inclined to spend more on defence. They are more supportive of increasing the level of Asian immigration, less concerned about unauthorised boat arrivals and less favourably disposed towards offshore processing. In a sign of the times, most millennials use social media as a source of international news.
I commend the 2013 Lowy Institute Poll to all those who are interested in what Australians think about the world.
Dr Michael Fullilove
The 2013 Lowy Institute Poll reports the results of a nationally representative opinion survey of 1,002 Australian adults conducted in Australia between 4 and 20 March 2013.
By a margin of more than two to one, Australians think the Liberal–Nationals Coalition would do a better job than Labor on five of eight foreign policy issues: managing the economy, handling asylum seekers, managing foreign investment, maintaining national security, and maintaining a strong alliance with the United States. Labor leads on only two issues (relations with China and responses to climate change), and by a much smaller margin. On the remaining issue, managing relations with Asia, there is no statistically significant leader.
Australia, China and the United States
The vast majority (87%) of Australians think that it is possible for Australia to have a good relationship with China and the United States at the same time. And despite seeing China as the most important economy, more Australians place a higher value on our relationship with the United States (48%) than with China (37%). Sixty-one per cent agree that China will eventually replace the United States as the world’s leading superpower.
While three in four Australians see China as the most important economy to Australia at the moment, sentiments towards China have cooled, its ‘thermometer’ rating falling 5 points to 54°. Fifty-seven per cent of Australians consider that the Australian Government is allowing too much investment from China, and a significant minority (41%) think it likely that China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years.
Economic optimism has fallen, with the proportion of Australians optimistic about the economy dropping 10 points since 2010 to 76%, the same level as we recorded at the height of the financial crisis in 2008.
In advance of Australia hosting the G20 leaders’ meetings in 2014, 79% of Australians say they have heard of the G20, and almost 9 out of 10 Australians think it is important for Australia to be part of organisations like the G20.
Climate change and global warming
For the first time since 2006, the steady decline in the number of Australians supporting strong action on climate change has reversed, with 40% (up 4 points) now saying global warming is a ‘serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’. Opposition to the carbon-pricing legislation has fallen 5 points to 58%.
Australia and the United States
Support for the alliance remains extremely strong at 82%, and a majority of Australians (54%) regard the alliance as ‘very important’ to Australia’s security. Basing US forces in Australia is an increasingly popular policy, with 61% (up from 55% in 2011) of Australians saying they are in favour.
However, 76% believe Australia should only support US military action if it is authorised by the United Nations. Less than half (48%) agree that we should follow the United States into armed conflict in the Middle East, and an even smaller proportion (38%) say Australia should support US military action in Asia.
The United Nations Security Council seat
Australians were very supportive of Australia’s bid for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council when we polled on this issue in 2009. Now that the seat has been won, a majority (59%) think it will be ‘good for Australia’, with only 2% saying it will be bad.
As the Asian region becomes increasingly significant in global economic and strategic terms, nine in ten Australians say the government should do more to assist Australian businesses succeed in Asian markets. In addition, 73% support an increase in Australia’s diplomatic presence in the region and 68% support increased defence spending in the context of a rising Asia. Less than half the population think the government should increase the migrant intake.
In a result that confirmed the surprise findings of our 2012 Poll, only 59% of Australians say that ‘democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’, and more than one in eight (13%) say that ‘for someone like me, it doesn’t matter what kind of government we have’. Less than half (48%) of 18–29-year-old Australians say they prefer democracy over any other kind of government.
Despite a more than doubling in boat arrivals since last year, there has been no increase in concern about asylum seekers. Seventy-four per cent remain concerned, 4 points lower than in 2010. The policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers has majority support (58%) among Australians.
Government responses to terrorism
Most Australians (68%) believe the government has struck about the right balance between protecting the rights of citizens and fighting terrorism.
Australia and the World
In January, Prime Minister Julia Gillard set the date for the next federal election at 14 September 2013, giving Australians some eight months to decide their vote.
To test perceptions of the foreign policy strengths of the two major political parties – Labor and the Liberal–Nationals Coalition – we asked Australians a series of questions about which party they thought would do a better job of handling eight key issues. Responses of ‘both equally’ or ‘neither’ were recorded if volunteered.
The Coalition’s scores are significantly stronger than Labor’s on five of the eight issues polled.
On economic issues, Australians rate the Coalition far more highly than Labor. By a factor of well over two to one (61%
Coalition to 25% Labor), Australians say the Coalition would do a better job of ‘managing the Australian economy over time’. Similar views prevail about ‘managing foreign investment in Australia’, with 59% saying the Coalition would handle this better, compared with only 24% saying Labor would do the better job.
In terms of Australia’s security, 55% say the Coalition would do a better job of ‘ensuring Australia’s national security is maintained’ (compared with 24% saying Labor). A majority (53%) also say the Coalition would do a better job of ‘maintaining a strong alliance with the United States’ (compared with 26% who prefer Labor for this).
With the asylum-seeker issue causing controversy and political disagreement, far more Australians of voting age – well over two to one – say the Coalition would do a better job of ‘handling the arrival of asylum seekers by boat’ (57%) than say Labor (25%). Significantly, however, 11% think that neither would do a better job, a result much higher than for the other seven issues polled.
The Labor Party is preferred over the Coalition on two of the eight issues, but only by a slight margin. Forty-four per cent say Labor would do a better job of ‘managing Australia’s relations with China’ (compared with 40% for Coalition) and 45% favour it for ‘managing Australia’s response to climate change’ (40% for the Coalition).
On one issue, that of ‘managing Australia’s relations with Asia’, there is no statistically significant leader (with 42% saying Labor would do a better job on this and 40% saying the Coalition would do the better job).
Australia, China and the United States
The prospect of strategic competition between a rising China and the United States has stirred a debate in recent years about whether it is possible for Australia to maintain good relations with both nations.
An overwhelming majority of Australians believe this is possible (87%). Only 12% think it is ‘not possible for Australia to have a good relationship with China and a good relationship with the United States at the same time’.
Most Australians (76%) see China as the most important economy to Australia at the moment (see p 10), far more than the 16% who say the United States economy is the most important.
Given this strong emphasis on the Chinese economy, we asked this year which relationship people saw as more important to Australia overall. Despite their views about the importance of China’s economy, more Australians place a higher value on our relationship with the United States (48%) than with China (37%). Without being prompted, 10% offered the response that both were equally important.
Even of those three-quarters of Australians who believe that China’s economy is the most important to Australia, a significant minority (40%) still think that the relationship with the United States is more important to Australia than the relationship with China.
The world’s leading superpower: the United States or China?
Our polling as far back as 2010 has shown that China is already seen by a majority of Australians (55%) as the world’s leading economic power, despite the fact that the US economy is almost double the size of China’s in terms of gross domestic product.1
To test whether this economic power translates into global influence, however, the Pew Global Attitudes Project has been asking a question in its multi-country opinion polls since 2008 on whether China will replace the United States as the world’s leading superpower. In Pew’s survey of 24 nations in 2008, Australia was one of only five nations (the others were China, France, Germany and Spain) in which a majority (53%) agreed that ‘China will eventually replace the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower’. In Pew’s 2011 survey, majorities in only four of 23 nations took this view.2
In 2013, the Lowy Institute Poll asked this question for the first time, finding a significantly larger majority of Australians (61%) who now agree that ‘China will eventually replace the United States as the world’s leading superpower’. Twelve per cent say this has already happened, although almost a quarter (23%) say China will never overtake the United States as the world’s leading superpower.
Attitudes to China
China’s economic growth has had a strong impact on Australia, with China overtaking Japan to become Australia’s largest trading partner in late 2007. In the 2012 Lowy Institute Poll, 70% of Australians credited the ‘demand for Australian resources from countries like China’ as a ‘major reason’ why Australia managed to avoid a recession. Yet Australians are equivocal in their embrace of China, as is evident in the cooler feelings towards China picked up byour ‘thermometer’ this year (see p 15). In successive Lowy Institute Polls, Australians have expressed mixed views about Chinese investment and Chinese military power.
A tracking question asked since 2009 has shown persistent unease about Chinese investment in Australia. In 2013, a majority of Australians (57%) still consider that ‘the Australian government is allowing too much investment from China’, an attitude largely unchanged since 2010.
China as a military threat
China’s rapid rise has prompted concerns about its growing military power and role in Asia. In 2012, tensions escalated between China and Japan over disputed territory in the East China Sea, with maritime and airspace incidents threatening to erupt into armed conflict.
The 2013 Poll suggests that Australians are increasingly wary of China’s military intentions. In a tracking question we have asked since 2009, the proportion of those who think it is ‘unlikely that China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years’ has fallen from 58% in 2012 to 54% in 2013, and a significant minority (41%) consider it likely. Western Australians, whose state has close economic ties with China, are far less wary of China’s military intentions. Twenty-six per cent of Western Australians think it likely that China will become a military threat in the next 20 years.
Australia’s security and defence
The US alliance
Last year’s Lowy Institute Poll recorded the highest level of support for the US alliance since our polling began in 2005, with 87% of Australians saying the alliance relationship with the United States is very or fairly important for Australia’s security.
In 2013, support for the alliance remains extremely strong, slipping slightly to 82%. A majority of Australians (54%) still consider the alliance ‘very important’ to Australia’s security. Older Australians place more weight on the importance of the alliance, with 69% of Australians 60 years and older saying it is ‘very important’, compared with 48% of those aged under 60.
US forces in Australia
During President Barack Obama’s 2011 visit to Australia, the Australian government announced that up to 2,500 US Marines would be deployed in Darwin on a rotating but permanent basis. Our 2011 Poll found popular support for this policy, with a majority (55%) of Australians in favour of allowing the United States to base military forces here.
Support for US military forces based in Australia has become even firmer in 2013, with 61% (up from 55% in 2011) saying they are in favour, and more than a quarter (26%, up 6 points since 2011) strongly in favour of ‘allowing the United States to base US military forces here in Australia’. Men are more strongly in favour of basing US forces here (68%) than women (54%). The only age-group falling short of majority support is that of 18–29-year-old Australians.
Military action and the US alliance
The year 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and is the year Australia is scheduled to withdraw the bulk of its armed forces from Afghanistan. This year’s Lowy Institute Poll posed a series of questions to test Australians’ willingness to support US military action in the Middle East or Asia.
Despite their support for the alliance, 76% of Australians agree with the proposition that ‘Australia should only support US military action if it is authorised by the United Nations’, while less than half (48%) say that ‘Australia should act in accordance with the US alliance even if it means supporting US military action in the Middle East, for example, against Iran’. An even smaller proportion (38%) agree that Australia should support ‘US military action in Asia, for example, in a conflict between China and Japan’.
As the Australian government prepares to reduce its military presence in Afghanistan, this year’s Poll sought to gauge Australians’ personal views on whether, ‘all in all, considering the costs to Australia versus the benefits to Australia … the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not worth fighting’.
In 2013, a majority of Australians (61%) consider that the Afghanistan war was ‘not worth fighting’. Only 35% say that, considering the costs versus the benefits to Australia, the war was worth fighting.
This result mirrors closely public sentiment in the United States on the value of the Afghanistan war. In response to the same question asked by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in its biennial survey of American public opinion in 2012, 67% of Americans said that the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting.3
Australians’ feelings about the war in Afghanistan match their disillusionment with Australia’s involvement in Iraq. In a similar question asked in our 2012 Poll, 59% of Australians did not agree that ‘the war in Iraq was worth the costs for Australia’.4
Iran and its nuclear program
The nuclear activities of the Iranian regime have raised concerns that Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. Asked whether they are ‘in favour or against the use of military air strikes on Iran to stop it developing nuclear weapons’, 53% of Australians say they are against, with more than a quarter strongly against. A substantial 41% are in favour, however, in a result which is very similar to that for a comparable question asked in last year’s Poll.5
Government spending on defence
The 2012-13 Commonwealth Budget made cuts to Australia’s annual spending on defence, sparking debate about possible negative implications for Australia’s defence capability.6 In advance of the 2013 Defence White Paper, this year’s Poll asked Australians their views about government spending on defence.
Presented with three possible options, 47% say that ‘the government is spending about the right amount on defence’, 38% say ‘the government should spend more on defence’, while around one in eight (12%) say the government should spend less. Older Australians 60 years and over are much more likely to favour a greater defence expenditure, with a majority (53%) saying government should spend more on defence, twice the proportion of those aged 18–44 years (26%) favouring increased defence budgets.
The number of Australians who say the government should spend more on defence rises when they are asked the question in the context of the rise of Asia. When presented with a range of options about what the government should do in response to the growth and increasing significance of Asia, 68% of Australians say it is important for the government to increase defence spending (see p 12).
Australia in the international economy
In 2013, the Lowy Institute Poll has recorded the first significant fall in optimism about the Australian economy since we began polling on this issue in 2005, with overall optimism dropping 10 points to 76%, returning to the level recorded in July 2008 at the height of the global financial crisis. In 2009 and 2010, a convincing majority (86%) were either ‘very optimistic’ or ‘optimistic’ about Australia’s economic performance over the next five years. Despite the fall this year, the number of Australians who remain optimistic about the nation’s economic performance over the next five years is still very substantial (76%), with younger Australians even more optimistic (83% optimistic among those aged 18–29) than those aged 45 years and over (73% optimistic).
Australia and the G20
The G20, or ‘Group of 20’, was established in 1999 to bring together important industrialised and developing economies to discuss key issues in the global economy. In 2008, it was elevated to a leaders’ level meeting. In 2009, the leaders agreed it would be designated the world’s premier forum on international economic cooperation.
As Australia prepares to assume the chairmanship of the G20 in 2014, this year’s Poll indicates that most Australians are familiar with the G20, 79% saying they ‘have heard of the G20 before today’. Nearly 9 out of 10 Australians (88%) see it as either ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ that Australia be part of organisations like the G20.
Most important economies to Australia
After China became Australia’s largest trading partner in late 2007, we asked Australians in the 2009 Lowy InstitutePoll which of the United States, China or Japan was ‘the most important economy to Australia at the moment’. Sixty-three per cent of Australians said China, with around a quarter (27%) identifying the United States.
Four years later, China now far surpasses the United States in Australians’ perceptions of its economic importance. A substantial 76% of Australians in 2013 see China as the economy ‘most important to Australia at the moment’, up 13 points since 2009. The gap between China and the US has widened, with a much-reduced 16% of Australians saying that the United States is our most important economy. Only 5% put Japan in this position.
Climate change, global warming and the ETS
Emissions trading scheme
In 2012, the Gillard government introduced a fixed price on carbon, leading to an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in 2015–16. The Opposition has pledged to repeal the legislation if it wins government.7
Public opposition to carbon pricing and an ETS remains firm in 2013, although the number of Australians against the legislation has fallen from 63% in 2012 to 58% in 2013. Only 36% are in favour of the scheme.
With the federal election due in late 2013, a majority of Australians (57%) are in favour of a Liberal–Nationals Coalition government removing the ETS if elected, matching exactly the response to this question in 2012.
Dealing with global warming
Since 2006, the Lowy Institute Poll has contained a tracking question testing Australians’ attitudes to the problem of global warming, and the steps they think Australia should take to deal with the problem. Presented with three options for dealing with global warming in successive Polls, Australians up until 2012 revealed a steadily declining concern about the seriousness of global warming and a decreasing preparedness to take action that would involve significant costs.
In 2013, this trend has shifted. Forty per cent of Australians (up from 36% in 2012) now say ‘global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’. After successive years of diminishing concern about the seriousness of global warming, this is the first increase in the number of Australians seeing global warming as a ‘serious and pressing problem’ since we first asked the question in 2006. However, the level remains well below the 68% who expressed this view in 2006.
Government response to Asia’s rise
In October 2012, Prime Minister Gillard released the government’s White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century, which aims to position Australia to ‘meet the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities presented by the rise of Asia’.8 Anticipating the White Paper, the 2012 Lowy Institute Poll asked Australians a series of questions about what they thought the Australian government should do in response to the growing importance of Asia. To track the development of public opinion on this issue, we repeated several of these questions in this year’s Poll.
A threshold question asked Australians about the government’s emphasis on Asia in terms of Australia’s foreign policy. Most Australians (59%) say the government ‘is putting … about the right amount of emphasis on Asia’. Roughly equal proportions say there is ‘too much emphasis’ (17%) or ‘not enough emphasis’ (16%) on Asia in Australia’s foreign policy. Australians 45 years and older are more likely to think the government is over-emphasising Asia (22%) than those under 45 (11%).
Nine out of ten Australians think it is important for the government to ‘do more to assist Australian businesses to succeed in Asian markets’ – this option was by far the most supported of the six options included in this survey. Seventy-three per cent of Australians favour an increase in the number of Australian embassies and consulates in Asia, with a similar proportion (70%) saying the government should ‘encourage Australians to learn more Asian languages’. While the option of increasing defence spending is seen as important by 68% of Australians, support for this option has fallen a significant 11 points (from 79%) since 2012. Though a lower-ranked priority, support for the government to ‘do more to attract Asian investment into Australia’ rose 5 points to 65% this year.
Australians are divided about increasing the nation’s migrant intake from Asia. Exactly half think it is not important for the government to ‘increase the number of migrants Australia accepts from Asia’, while just less than half (49%, down from 53% in 2012) think it is important, although this option attracted more support (58%) among younger Australians aged 18–29 years.
Successive Lowy Institute Polls since 20 06 have demonstrated the wariness with which Australians and Indonesians regard each other. On the annual ‘thermometer’ scale, Indonesia had never scored above 50° until 2010, and then it only rose to 54° following a successful visit to Australia by Indonesia’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Polling conducted in Indonesia in 2006 and again in 2011 detected a similar guardedness among Indonesians towards Australia, although Indonesians’ feelings towards Australia had warmed in 2011.9
In 2013, Australians remain lukewarm about Indonesia, rating it at 53° on the thermometer scale (see p 15).
Australians have a somewhat lopsided view of the bilateral relationship. For example, most Australians (84%) say in 2013 that ‘Australia acts as a good neighbour to Indonesia’, while only a slight majority (54%) agree that Indonesia acts as a good neighbour to Australia. One cause of this mistrust may be the contentious people-smuggling issue, with only 30% of Australians agreeing that ‘Indonesia helps Australia combat people smuggling’. A majority, however, say that ‘Australia is managing its relationship with Indonesia well’ (61%).
Despite it being one of our closest neighbours, Australians see Indonesia both as a military and terrorist threat. A majority (54%) agree that ‘Australia is right to worry about Indonesia as a military threat’, and exactly the same proportion say that ‘Indonesia is a dangerous source of Islamic terrorism’.
In at least one respect the Poll also underlined the poor knowledge in Australia about Indonesia. More than a decade after the transition to democratic rule in Indonesia, only 33% of Australians agree that ‘Indonesia is a democracy’.
On a more positive note for the relationship, nearly two-thirds of Australians (65%) see Indonesia as an important economy to Australia.
Asylum seekers and offshore processing
Concern about asylum seekers
Concern about ‘unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat’ remains steady. This is despite a more-than-doubling in boat arrivals last year, coupled with heated political debate about where and how asylum seekers should be housed while their claims are being heard.10 In 2013, 74% of Australians are either ‘very concerned’ or ‘somewhat concerned’ about ‘unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat’, a similar proportion to those who were concerned in 2011 when we last asked this question, and 4 points fewer than those concerned in 2010. Older Australians (45+) are much more likely to be concerned (83%) about boat arrivals than those under 45 (65%). Australians aged 18–29 are least concerned about this issue (58%).
In August 2012, the government-appointed Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers released its report on the policy options available to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia.11 Legislation designating Papua New Guinea and Nauru for offshore processing of asylum seekers was passed a few days later.
Our 2013 Poll results show the policy has majority support among Australians, with 58% in favour of the ‘offshore processing of unauthorised asylum seekers’. Young Australians aged 18-29 years are the only group of Australians in which support for this policy falls short of a majority, with less than half (46%) in favour, compared with 62% of those aged over 30.
Media, political and public attention to the asylum seeker issue
With the sharp rise in boat arrivals over the last few years spurring vigorous public debate, we asked Australians their views on the amount of attention being paid to this contentious issue by the media, by politicians and by the public.
A majority of Australians (54%) think that the media gives too much attention to the asylum seeker issue. By contrast, only 39% believe politicians pay too much attention to this issue, and 29% think the public pays too much attention to this issue.
The value of democracy
In 2012, we asked Australians for the first time about the value they place on democracy. Only 60% of Australians said they preferred democracy over any other kind of government.
Repeating this question in 2013, we found that a significant number of Australians remain ambivalent about the value of democracy. Presented with three options and asked ‘which one of the three statements comes closest to your own personal views about democracy’, more than a quarter express the view that ‘in some circumstances, a non-democratic government can be preferable’ (26%, compared with 23% in 2012).
Fifty-nine per cent say that ‘democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’, and more than one in eight (13%) say that ‘for someone like me, it doesn’t matter what kind of government we have’.
One of the most surprising findings of our 2012 Poll was that 18–29-year-olds were the age group most ambivalent about democracy, with only 39% saying that ‘democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’. In our 2013 Poll, the number of young Australians who say they prefer democracy over any other kind of government is still less than half (48%) of Australians aged 18–29. This ambivalence decreases as Australians get older. Sixty-nine per cent of Australians 60 years and over regard democracy as preferable to other forms of government.
Feelings towards other countries
Each year, the Lowy Institute Poll asks how Australians feel towards other countries. For this, we use a ‘thermometer’ scale, in which respondents are asked to rate various countries from 0-100° (where 100° is a very warm, favourable feeling and zero is a very cold, unfavourable feeling). Of 19 countries included in this year’s survey, Australians feel most warmly towards Great Britain (77°), rating Ireland, a country we included for the first time this year, second warmest at 73°. Germany and the United States were regarded with equal warmth at 70°, with feelings towards the United States consistently warmer over the last five years of polling compared with the lowest point recorded in our tracking which was a coolish 60° in 2007.
Attitudes towards a number of countries have become noticeably cooler. Feelings towards China have cooled to 54° after a relatively warm rating of 59° in 2012. Japan also saw a decline, falling five points to 65°. Closer to home, feelings towards Fiji fell four points to 64°, and feelings towards Papua New Guinea were also cooler this year than last, falling four points to 60°.
Among the countries included for the first time this year, Brazil received a warm 62°, while Sri Lanka scored a cooler 54°.
Coldest feelings were reserved for Iran (38°) and North Korea (31°), which conducted a nuclear test on February 12, shortly before fieldwork commenced for this Poll.12
Australia and the United Nations Security Council
Australia secured a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council with a decisive win in the General Assembly vote in New York in October 2012.
Australia’s bid was announced by the Rudd Government in 2008. Lowy Institute polling in 2009 showed broad support for the campaign, with 71% of Australians agreeing we should seek a seat, 52% saying they ‘strongly agreed’ with the bid.
Now that Australia has won the seat, 59% of Australians think that our time on the Council will be ‘good for Australia’. Only 2% say it will be ‘bad for Australia’, while a sizeable 37% say it will ‘make no difference’. In terms of the impact on Australia’s influence in the world, a majority (64%) say it will give Australia either ‘a lot more’ or ‘a little more’ influence in the world. A significant minority, however, say it will ‘make no difference’ (34%).
Culture, values and institutions in Australian foreign policy: the idea of an ‘Anglosphere’
The concept of an ‘Anglosphere’ is sometimes referred to when talking about Australia’s place in the world: the idea of a group of English-speaking nations that share similar cultures, values and democratic systems, and that cooperate with each other in the international system. Tony Abbott has referred to this idea since becoming leader of the opposition.13
To test the attractiveness of such a concept with the Australian population, we set out a brief description of the idea and asked Australians whether they are ‘in favour or against the government putting a special emphasis on countries belonging to the Anglosphere’ in Australia’s foreign relations. In a divided result, 50% say they are in favour (20% strongly), while 40% are against, and a considerable proportion (11%) say they don’t know, suggesting that Australians are somewhat unsure about the place of the Anglosphere in Australian foreign policy.
Government responses to terrorism
Since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 and the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005, the Australian government has introduced a number of measures in an attempt to reduce the threat of terrorism against Australia and its citizens. Among these have been amendments to crimes and telecommunications interception legislation, introduction of surveillance devices legislation, and changes to the powers of ASIO.
Most Australians (68%) believe that ‘the government has struck about the right balance between protecting the rights of citizens and fighting terrorism’. A small proportion say that the balance has swung too far towards fighting terrorism, with one in five (19%) agreeing that ‘the government leans too much towards fighting terrorism over protecting the civil rights of Australian citizens’. Eleven per cent say ‘the government leans too much towards protecting the rights of citizens over fighting terrorism’.
Since the last Lowy Institute Poll, in which we asked Australians what they thought about WikiLeaks, Swedish authorities have sought extradition of its founder, Australian citizen Julian Assange, in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct. Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador in August 2012 and he remains confined within the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
These developments have not had a major impact on the regard for WikiLeaks in Australia. Just over half (58%) of Australians now think that ‘the job WikiLeaks does is more of a good thing’, 4 points down from 2011, when we last asked this question. Twenty-nine per cent say that ‘the job that WikiLeaks does is more of a bad thing’, while a substantial 13% say they ‘don’t know’ or expressed no view.
Where Australians get their international news
With the increasing availability of news content online, the Australian news media landscape has undergone dramatic upheaval over the past few years. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook have experienced remarkable growth; Twitter now boasts over half a billion users worldwide.14 At the same time, traditional news organisations have implemented major structural changes, with deep cuts to budgets and staffing and the introduction of paywalls for online content.
To track the habits of Australians in sourcing their international news, we repeated a question from our 2009 Poll, identifying seven different media types and asking Australians whether they use the source ‘often, sometimes or never to get international news’.15
In 2013, 56% of Australians now use online newspapers ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ to get their information about international news (up 6 points from 2009). Australians born overseas in a non-English-speaking country are the most likely (73%) to use online newspapers, and younger Australians (71% of under-45s) are far more likely to use online newspapers than older Australians (36% of those aged 60 and over).
Social media, a category included for the first time this year, is used by 53% of Australians, and other online sources, including blogs, are used by over a third (37%) of Australians either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’.
Printed newspapers were the biggest loser, with 37% using them ‘often’, a fall of 12% since 2009, although 78% overall still use newspapers as a source of international news.
Free-to-air TV remains the most popular source of international news for Australians, used ‘often’ by 66%, although down 5 points since 2009. Radio remains more popular than either print or online sources, used ‘often’ by
45%, despite losing 5 points since the 2009 Poll.
Age is a critical factor in media use. Apart from their enthusiastic consumption of online newspapers, 18–29 -year-olds dominate the sphere of social media, with 78% using it often or sometimes, compared with 45% of Australians30 and over who use it as a source of international news.
1. IMF, World Economic Outlook Database, April 2013, GDP, current prices 2012, USD; The Lowy Institute Poll
2010, Sydney, Lowy Institute for International Policy, May 2010, p 24.
2. Pew Research, Global Attitudes Project, Pew Global Attitudes project question database, http://www.pewglobal. org/question-search/?qid=1041&cntIDs=&stdIDs=.
3. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Americans question gains of war in Afghanistan, http://www. thechicagocouncil.org /files/Studies _ Publications/ POS/ Survey2012/Afghanistan.aspx; 1877 adults in a random telephone survey, in May–June 2012.
4. The Lowy Institute Poll 2012, Sydney, Lowy Institute for International Policy, June 2012, p 20.
5. The Lowy Institute Poll 2012, p 20, in which the question was worded: ‘Now on Iran and its attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Are you personally in favour or against the use of military air strikes on Iran to stop its attempts to develop nuclear weapons? Is that strongly or somewhat?’
6. Watt, D., Defence budget overview, http://www.aph. gov.au /About_ Parliament / Parliamentary_ Departments/ Parliamentar y_ Librar y/pubs /rp/ Budget Review2 01 213/ DefenceOverview.
7. Ben Packham and Lanai Vasek, Tony Abbott makes a ‘blood pledge’ to repeal carbon tax after it passes lower house, The Australian, 12 October 2011, http://www. theaustralian.com.au /national-affairs/carbon-tax /green- light-for-carbon-tax-red-flag-for-industry/story-fn99tjf2-1226164561315.
8. Australian Government, Australia in the Asian Century. Implementation Plan, April 2013, http://asiancentury.dpmc. gov.au/news-media/blog/implementation-plan.
9. Fergus Hanson, Indonesia poll 2012: Shattering stereotypes: public opinion and foreign policy, Sydney, Lowy Institute for International Policy, March 2012, pp 22, 26.
10. Phillips, J and H. Spinks, Boat arrivals in Australia since 1976, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_ Parliament/ Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_ Library/pubs/ BN/2012-2013/BoatArrivals, updated 29 January 2013.
11. Australian Government, Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, 13 August 2012, http://expertpanelon asylumseekers.dpmc.gov.au/report.
12. Alastair Gale, New North Korea nuclear test soon? The Wall Street Journal Asia blogs, 8 April 2013, http:// blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2013/04/08/new-north-korea- nuclear-test-soon/.
13. The Hon. Tony Abbott MP, National security fundamentals, Address to the Lowy Institute, Sydney, 23 April 2010, http://www.lowyinstitute.org/files/pubfiles/ Abbott%2C_Address_to_the_Lowy_Institute_230410.pdf.
14. 2012 Statistic Brain Research Institute, Twitter statistics, 7 May 2013, http://www.statisticbrain.com/ twitter-statistics/, compared with 105 million in April 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/14/twitter-user- statistics-r_n_ 537992.html.
15. ‘Social media’ added in 2013. In 2009, the question included six media types. See The Lowy Institute Poll 2009, p 28.
About the Lowy Institute Poll
The Lowy Institute Poll was conducted in Australia between 4 and 20 March 2013. A number of the questions in the Poll were first asked in previous Lowy Institute Polls, or have been adapted from questions asked in those years. Repeating questions in successive years allows us to compare public opinion on a single issue over time, building trend data on important international policy issues.
Some of our questions this year are identical to questions asked previously by other survey organisations, which has allowed for the comparison of public opinion internationally.
The order of questions in the questionnaire was different from the order of questions presented in this report.
For this opinion poll, Field Works Market Research conducted a total of 1,002 interviews. Survey interviews were conducted by fixed and mobile telephone. The sample was designed to be nationally representative of all Australians 18 years and older. Quotas were set for each state and territory, with broad age-group and gender quotas. Interviewers continued making calls until each quota was filled.
Within each geographic area, telephone numbers were randomly selected from a regularly updated active residential and mobile phone number database. The results were then weighted to reflect the demographic profile of the Australian population aged 18 years and over, using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
These weights were used in the production of all the tables for this report. On a truly random sample of 1,002 the margin of error is 3.1%, which means there is a 95% chance that responses from the sample fall within a range of 3.1% either side of the notional collective response of the whole population. Since this sample was stratified (by state/ territory, age-group and sex), the error figure is a guide only. Where the results for a sub-sample are reported, the margin of error is greater.
Several of the questions in this survey were modelled on those developed over the last thirty years by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a world leader in foreign policy opinion polling. Other questions in this year’s survey were derived from Pew and WorldPublicOpinion.org. The fieldwork for the Lowy Institute Poll was managed by Tamara de Silva of Field Works Market Research. Sol Lebovic, Research Consultant, provided technical support, reviewed the questionnaire and helped interpret the data. The survey was funded entirely by the Lowy Institute for International Policy.