Trust in politics at historic lows

Only one in four Australians have any faith in their political leaders and institutions, according to the latest Australian Election Study, placing Australia’s satisfaction in the democratic system is at its lowest point since the constitutional crisis of the 1970s.

The study was conducted by the Australian National University (ANU), which surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 2100 voters, and revealed that just 59 per cent of Australians are satisfied with the way democracy is working. The historic low for satisfaction was 56 per cent recorded in 1979.

“I’ve been studying elections for 40 years, and never have I seen such poor returns for public trust in and satisfaction with democratic institutions,” said lead researcher Professor Ian McAllister.

“There is widespread public concern about how our democracy is underperforming.”

He said the findings were a clear warning the nation’s politicians needed to do better in their efforts to represent and win the confidence of everyday Australians.

“Trust in our politicians has been on a steady downward trend since 2007, when it sat at 43 per cent,” he said.

“In one of the most worrying findings from our study, a little over one in 10 Australians, 12 per cent, believe the government is run for ‘all the people’.

“In contrast, more than half – 56 per cent – say the government is run for a ‘few big interests’.

“This is a wake-up call.

“With faith in democracy taking major hits all over the globe, winning back the people’s trust and satisfaction would appear to be one of the most pressing and urgent challenges facing our political leaders and institutions.”

The latest study helped to explain Labor’s shock 2019 loss, revealing how the Coalition was perceived by voters to be better at managing the economy, while Labor led on environmental issues.

“Voters swung to the Coalition based on the economy, tax and leadership,” said researcher Dr Jill Sheppard. “Voters swung to Labor on the environment.

“What the study shows is that a key concern for voters was the economy. And this is what tipped the balance in favour of the Coalition.”

The study also found that the major parties are losing favour with Aussie voters.

“The study shows a clear rise in support for minor parties among voters, while 21 per cent of Australians don’t align with any party at all,” said Dr Sheppard.

It seems that despite widespread criticism, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is still the most popular leader since Kevin Rudd in 2007, scoring 5.1 out of 10 on a popularity scale. Former Labor leader Bill Shorten was the least popular leader of any major political party since 1990.

“Leaders have always played a major role in shaping voters’ choices and the 2019 election was no exception,” said study co-lead author Dr Sarah Cameron.

“But, the role of leadership in the 2019 election was different from other elections in two respects. First, Bill Shorten’s historically low popularity undoubtedly disadvantaged Labor.

“Second, the Liberals’ switch from Malcolm Turnbull to Scott Morrison was the fourth time a sitting prime minister had been replaced outside an election since 2010. A majority of voters, 74 per cent, disapproved of this.

“Voters are getting weary of constant changes of prime minister.”

In line with the latest Ipsos Issues Monitor, more voters than ever before said the environment was the most important issue when casting their vote, however he most important policy issues were management of the economy (24 per cent), health (22 per cent) and environmental issues (21 per cent).

When it came to voting on management of the economy, taxation and immigration policies, voters cast in favour of the Coalition. Voters preferred Labor’s policies on education, health and the environment.

Men (48 per cent) were more likely to vote for the Coalition than women (38 per cent), and women were more likely to vote for the Greens.

The 2019 election represented the lowest Liberal party vote on record for those under 35 (23 per cent) and the highest ever vote for the Greens (28 per cent).

Working class voters (41 per cent) are much more likely to vote Labor than middle class voters (29 per cent), with long-term trends showing an erosion of Labor’s working class base.

For more data and analysis, visit www.australianelectionstudy.org

Are you surprised by these results? Do today’s politicians warrant our trust? Of the current MPs in place, who do you trust?

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Related articles:
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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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