Fresh from the lab: What the latest techniques can tell us about how Australians view our major foreign policy challenges

Abstract: The 2008 US Presidential Election introduced the general public to many of the innovative techniques which political scientists and others have developed to analyse survey data, producing increasingly accurate forecasts and policy recommendations. Less well known is that most of these techniques have also been applied successfully to questions of US public opinion and foreign policy. Thanks to the work of organizations such as the Australian Election Study and the Lowy Institute, we are rich in data on Australian attitudes to many questions on foreign affairs, but Australia suffers from a shortage of analysts trained to get the most out of this data. In this talk, I apply many of these techniques in an Australian context to shed light on questions of interest in Australia and beyond – casualty sensitivity, relations with the United States and perceptions of China as a security threat. In this talk I will briefly introduce both the technique and more importantly the substantive conclusions it allows scholars to draw.

Using an online survey experiment, I challenge the conventional wisdom that Australians are reflexively ‘casualty phobic’ and suggest instead that Australians, like Americans, are more willing to take casualties than previously thought provided they believe the mission is worthwhile and likely to succeed. Using age-period-cohort analysis I suggest that concerns that the Australian public will turn away from the ANZUS alliance are overblown – as the younger generation age, the chances are that they will come to place a greater value on the alliance with the United States. Finally, using ahierarchical model combining 2013 AES data with data from the 2011 Census and Geosciences Australia, I suggest that economic relations with China are having very little effect on perceptions of the PRC as a security threat at the individual level.


Dr Charles Miller received his PhD in political science from Duke University in 2013 under the supervision of Peter Feaver and Chris Gelpi, two of America’s top scholars in the field of public opinion and foreign policy. He is the author of numerous works on the subject, including ‘Endgame for the West in Afghanistan’, a cross-national analysis of the decline in support for the Afghan war, Post Heroic or Defeat Phobic?’, an analysis of the Australian public’s sensitivity to casualties published in the Australian Journal of International Affairs and ‘Public Opinion and Defence’, a chapter in the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre’s book ‘Australia’s Defence’ and co-author (with Peter Feaver) of ‘Provocations on Policymakers, Casualty Aversion and Post-Heroic Warfare’, an analysis of American public and elite opinion towards military casualties.