Politicians more unpopular than ever - election study

21 February 2014

Australia's political leaders broke new records of unpopularity at the 2013 federal election, the latest Australian Election Study from the Australian National University (ANU) has found.

While Tony Abbott led his Liberal-National coalition to victory over a divided Labor Party, the Australian Election Study found Abbott to be the most unpopular leader to win an election since the study began to track public opinion in 1987.

For the first time since the study began, none of Australia's political leaders scored above a mean of 5 on the scale of 0-10, with 0 for strongly dislike and 10 for strongly like.

Nationals leader Warren Truss was the most popular leader following the 2013 election with a score of 4.34, followed by Abbott with 4.29. Labor leaders Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd scored 4.04 and 4.07 respectively, while Greens leader Christine Milne was the least popular on 3.81.

"The Australian Election Study shows that Australian politicians are less popular than ever," said Sarah Cameron, who co-wrote the report with Professor Ian McAllister, both from the ANU School of Politics and International Relations.

"Tony Abbott, on average, is less popular than any Prime Minister in the history of the study, which began in 1987.

"However, Abbott compared favourably to former Labor leaders Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard after the 2013 election."

The Australian Election Study has tracked trends in Australian public opinion since 1987, by surveying a representative sample of people following federal elections. The 2013 study surveyed 3,955 people.

The latest study, Trends in Australian Political Opinion, was released on Friday and highlights changes in Australian's views about politics, politicians and policy.

It found voters saw little difference between the likeability of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and that Tony Abbott's popularity did not change significantly from 2010 to 2013, although he became relatively more popular compared to the decline in popularity for Gillard and Rudd.

Other key findings include:

  • The most important election issues in 2013 were management of the economy (at 28 per cent), health (19 per cent), education (15 per cent), taxation (11 per cent) and refugees and asylum seekers (10 per cent).
  • More Australians prefer the coalition's policies on taxation, immigration and refugees/asylum seekers.
  • More Australians prefer the Labor Party's policies on education, health, the environment, and global warming.
  • Satisfaction with democracy dropped to 72 per cent in 2010 and 2013, compared to scores above 80 per cent in 2004 and 2007. Potential explanations include the minority government of 2010, Labor party leadership turmoil, and lower levels of leader popularity.
  • While Australia is one of few developed nations to avoid recession following the global financial crisis, increasing numbers of Australians believe the country's financial situation is declining. This downward trend began in 2007. Over the same timeframe more Australians evaluated their household financial situation as becoming worse.
  • More Australians evaluate the government as having had a bad effect on the country's finances in the year preceding the 2013 election, than at any other election since 1996.
  • A slight majority of Australians (53 per cent) favour Australia becoming a republic. However, support for Australia becoming a republic has been in gradual decline from a high point of 66 per cent before the Republic Referendum of 1999.
  • Meanwhile, the Queen is considered of increasing importance to Australians. In 1998 just 30 per cent of Australians thought the Queen and Royal family were important to Australia. This has now risen to 44 per cent.

Trends in Australian Political Opinion: Results from the Australian Election Study, 1987-2013, is available at: http://aes.anu.edu.au/publications/aes-trends