What do Australians think about the world? Launch of the 2023 Lowy Institute Poll
The 2023 Lowy Institute Poll reveals the decline in Australians’ attitudes towards Beijing may have bottomed out, with a slimmer majority of Australians now seeing China as a security threat compared to a year ago — although Australians still see a possible military conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan as one of their biggest security fears.
The annual edition of the benchmark survey finds a majority of Australians would want to remain neutral in a conflict between the United States and China. But, significantly, they say if Taiwan were attacked by mainland China that they would be prepared to take in refugees, supply weapons and ammunition to Taipei and even go as far as joining an international naval action to counter a blockade of the island.
Concern about a US–China conflict over Taiwan is second only to the threat of cyberattacks, according to the nationally representative poll, which is now in its nineteenth year.
“After three years of global turmoil, Australians have caught their breath,” said Dr Michael Fullilove, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute. “But there has been no return to factory settings. The shocks of recent years broke many underlying assumptions about the world.”
The Poll also reveals strong public support for the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine agreement, although respondents are less clear on how the deal will impact regional security, or whether it represents value for money.
Perhaps the most significant trend identified in the survey is an arrest in the decline of Australians’ attitudes towards China, which had been particularly pronounced in previous years. A slimmer majority of Australians (52%) now view China as more of a security threat than an economic partner — down from an all-time high of 63% in 2022 and 2021. However, Australians’ perception of China as a long-term military threat remains ingrained.
“Australians don’t want to see a conflict in our region and are cautious about the country’s involvement if a war did break out,” said Ryan Neelam, the Director of the Lowy Institute’s Public Opinion and Foreign Policy Program. “But they are also prepared to stand by democracies that come under threat.”
“There are signs in this survey that negative public opinion towards China may have bottomed out. But much depends on what happens next. The ball is in Beijing’s court after a campaign of economic coercion and diplomatic pressure that ultimately damaged China's own image in Australia.”
Other key findings from the 2023 Lowy Institute Poll include:
- Russia and China are the powers least trusted by Australians to act responsibly in the world. Japan, the United Kingdom and France are most trusted by Australians. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the world leader who inspires the most confidence in Australians, equal with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un elicits the least confidence, followed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
- More Australians feel safe than last year, but feelings of safety remain far below levels in 2010.
- Cyberattacks from other countries is now the top-ranked threat, while six in ten say they are worried about a military conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan in the next ten years.
- Eight in ten Australians see the alliance with the United States as important to Australia’s security. Three-quarters say the United States is more respected in the world under President Joe Biden than under his predecessor Donald Trump.
- A majority of Australians see the resumption of contact between Australian and Chinese government ministers as positive for Australia’s national interest.
- More than half of Australians believe Australia should be neutral in a conflict between the United States and China; but in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, strong majorities say they would, in concert with the United States, support Australia accepting refugees (80%), imposing economic sanctions (76%), providing military weapons and materiel (64%), and using the Australian Navy to prevent a military blockade (61%). Only 42% are willing to send Australian troops to Taiwan to help defend it from China.
- On trade, most Australians support ‘friendshoring’: 70% say supply chains should run through friendly countries, even if it means higher prices.
- A majority of Australians continue to say climate change is a serious and pressing problem; and just over half of Australians say immigration levels should return to similar levels as before the Covid pandemic — a seven-point increase on 2022.
ABOUT THE LOWY INSTITUTE POLL
The 2023 Lowy Institute Poll is the nineteenth edition of the annual opinion survey published by the Lowy Institute. It is the leading measure of Australians’ attitudes on international affairs. The 2023 Poll results, along with historical data and comparative analysis, will be available at the interactive site poll.lowyinstitute.org. Please cite this address in any online links.
The 2023 Lowy Institute Poll reports the results of two nationally representative online and telephone surveys conducted by the Social Research Centre between 14 and 26 March 2023 and 11 and 26 April 2023, with sample sizes of 2077 and 4469 Australian adults, respectively. The margin of error is approximately 2.2% (March survey) and 1.5% (April survey).
The 2023 Lowy Institute Poll is now available to access at poll.lowyinstitute.org.
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A full PDF report of the 2023 Lowy Institute Poll is available to download.
Ryan Neelam, the Director of the Lowy Institute’s Public Opinion and Foreign Policy Program, is available for media interviews about the 2023 Lowy Institute Poll.
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