Australians have a low level of trust in government and are increasingly politically disengaged, but remain highly cohesive, showing wide support for multiculturalism, immigration and marriage equality, according to a new report by the Scanlon Foundation.
The Mapping Social Cohesion report is the annual study tracking Australian attitudes on issues including immigration, multiculturalism, discrimination and political trust and is described as the largest study of its kind with a collective sample of more than 35,000 people since 2007.
Report author Professor Andrew Markus said while Australia was overall a stable and cohesive society, some indicators showed a negative trend.
“There was an expectation that following the victory of the Coalition government in 2013, there would be a significant increase in trust. However, in 2016 only 29 per cent of respondents have a high level of trust in the government, which is 19 per cent lower than in 2009,” Markus said.
The report shows one-third of Australians were politically disengaged with this year’s federal election. Some 34 per cent of survey respondents indicated that they had little or no interest in the election. Among young men aged 18 to 24 years, 23 per cent indicated that they had no interest at all in the election.
Results showed there was also a significant increase in support for change to the system of government – 31 per cent of respondents believed major change was needed, an increase of 8 per cent since 2013.
“One factor influencing disengagement and a lack of trust in the system may be a disconnect between politicians and the public on key topical issues,” Markus said.
Of those surveyed, 83 per cent of respondents supported medical use of marijuana, 80 per cent supported medically approved euthanasia, and 67 per cent supported marriage equality. Reduced reliance on coal for electricity generation was supported by 70 per cent.
The report said the findings also challenged the view that negative attitudes toward Muslim Australians, immigration and multiculturalism were increasing.
“Over the course of the last six surveys, there has been no significant shift in negative opinion towards Muslims, which remains in the range of 22 to 25 per cent,” it said.
Support for multiculturalism has also remained high. The 2016 report found 83 per cent agreed that multiculturalism had been good for Australia.
“There is a positive view of multiculturalism. Most people see multiculturalism as a two-way process of change, involving adaptation from Australian-born and migrants,” Markus said.
Scanlon Foundation CEO Anthea Hancocks said the report provided valuable insight for government, business and the community and those working towards building welcoming, inclusive communities.
The 2016 survey was conducted in July and August, in the weeks immediately after the federal election, and employed a national representative sample of 1,500 respondents.
Hancocks said the findings build on the data collected in eight earlier national surveys, produced in partnership with Monash University and the Australian Multicultural Foundation.
Summary of findings by demographics:
- Almost a quarter of young males had no interest at all in the federal election, compared to 7 per cent of young women.
- The biggest predictor of acceptance of immigration and cultural diversity is age, followed by the level of completed education and financial status. Strong rejection of immigration and cultural diversity was around 7 per cent among those aged 18 to 44 years and 4 per cent among those with a bachelor or higher level qualification, compared to 22 per cent of those over 65 years of age and 22 per cent of those whose highest level of education was year 11.
- A minority of respondents, 26 per cent, opposed marriage equality. Further insight into attitudes to marriage equality by age group shows that of those over 75 years of age, 47 per cent were opposed, 34 per cent aged 65 to 74, and a much lower 17 per cent aged 18 to 24.
- Support for multiculturalism remains high at 83 per cent, and the strongest positive association of multiculturalism is with its contribution to economic development.
- Sense of belonging in Australia remains high at 91 per cent, but is lower than the 94 per cent to 96 per cent reported between 2007 and 2012.
- Just 34 per cent considered that the immigration intake was “too high”, the lowest recorded in the Scanlon Foundation surveys.
By Lina Caneva, Pro Bono Australia