Trust in democracy plunges in 2016

In what should serve as a wake-up call to the Government, a new study has found that Australian public satisfaction and trust in democracy has hit its lowest level in 40 years – with almost half of Australians feeling disillusioned by the current system.

The Australian National University (ANU) has been conducting the Australian Election Study since 1987, though public opinion on some issues has been recorded since 1969. Released yesterday, the latest report reveals the glaring lack of confidence that Australians have in the Government and politicians.

Since the July election, more than 2800 people have taken part in the study, answering questions on whether they were satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia and whether politicians can be trusted to “do the right thing” by the public.

Almost half of the respondents said they were not satisfied with the state of democracy, which has hit its lowest recorded level since 1969. Just 26 per cent of respondents expressed confidence in the Government and only 30 per cent of voters said they took an interest in the recent Federal Election campaign.

ANU Professor of Political Science Ian McAllister said, the results don’t reveal “a crisis in democracy but something is starting to happen”.

Professor McAllister called the current state of affairs “a wake-up call for our politicians and the political elite.” He also said it echoed similar trends in public disillusion seen in the lead up to Brexit and during the US election of Donald Trump.

“What we are seeing in Australia are the beginnings of a popular disaffection with the political class that has emerged so dramatically in Britain, the United States and Italy,” he said

What’s more, while this disaffection with the current democratic system continues to grow, the ANU study also revealed the lack of faith Australians have in the different political parties. Following a record number of crossbench senators being voted in, a record high of 19 per cent of respondents feel no allegiance to any political party – nor do they identify as a Labor, Liberal or Greens voter.

While as little as seven per cent of respondents thought the Government had positively affected the country’s economy during the past year, most voters viewed the economic performance of the country and their household finances as weak.



Opinion: Study reveals change is coming

The ANU Australian Election Study is important because it provides essential documentation about public opinion. However, it isn’t actually telling us what we don’t already know. As Professor McAllister said, the results don’t expose a hidden “crisis in democracy” – this we already know from a year of reported political turmoil. Rather, it reveals that a shift is starting to happen.

Australia isn’t experiencing this turmoil alone. This year, we sat and watched as a nation-wide referendum ended a 43-year alliance between the UK and the European Union. We also watched a country, fed up with political manipulation and fearmongering, turn to Donald Trump for help.  

There’s a storm brewing and it has already hit several parts of the world. People are beginning to say enough is enough. By far, the most significant issues mentioned by voters in the ANU study were that of health, specifically Medicare and euthanasia, the right to obtain an abortion and decriminalising marijuana. Voters, particularly those in their 30s, are finding their yearning for progressive change implemented by a ‘good government’ isn’t being fulfilled by the major parties.

The topics that respondents felt the most passionate about – including health, immigration, same-sex marriage and Indigenous recognition – are, of course, hot-button issues that have become the ‘playthings’ of politics and the media. Many of us feel that these emotive and highly personal issues have been used intentionally to manipulate our perspective. The ANU study shouldn’t only be taken as damning evidence of the dissatisfaction Australians have with the Government and politicians, but as a warning to the nation’s leaders that change, powered by the public, is coming. And come it must.

How do you feel about Australia’s current political direction? Do you think you have sufficient say in the issues that matter most to you? Do the results of the ANU study reflect general popular opinion?

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Written by Amelia Theodorakis

A writer and communications specialist with eight years’ in startups, SMEs, not-for-profits and corporates. Interests and expertise in gender studies, history, finance, banking, human interest, literature and poetry.

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