Voter interest hits record low in 2016 - ANU Election Study

20 December 2016

The 2010, 2013, and 2016 elections each saw newly elected Prime Ministers fail to reach above the half way point on a ten-point scale of how much voters liked the leader.

A major review of the 2016 Australian election has found record low levels of voter interest in the election and record low levels of satisfaction with democracy and trust in government.

The latest Australian Election Study, conducted by The Australian National University (ANU), has also found continued low levels of popularity for Australia's political leaders, continuing the trend since the initial popularity of Kevin Rudd following his 2007 election victory.

Lead researcher Professor Ian McAllister said the Election Study was a wake-up call to Australia's political leadership as it found Australia was not immune from the problems facing democracy in Europe and the United States.

"Public satisfaction with our democratic processes and public trust in the politicians we elect are at some of the lowest levels ever recorded," Professor McAllister said.

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

ANU has conducted the Australian Election Study following each election since 1987, but with public opinion on some issues tracked back to 1969. The latest survey is based on interviews with 2,818 people in the three months following the July 2 election.

Key findings from the 2016 study were:

  • Record low levels of interest in the 2016 election, with only 30 per cent of Australians taking a good deal of interest in the campaign;
  • A record low of only 34 per cent followed how to vote cards, a drop of almost 10 points since 2013;
  • 40 per cent are not satisfied with democracy in Australia, the lowest level since the 1970s;
  • Only 26 per cent think people in government can be trusted - the lowest number since it was first measured in 1969;
  • A record high 19 per cent say they don't feel close to any political party, or identify as Labor, Liberal or Greens voters;
  • Health and Medicare, Economic Management, Education, and Taxation were the main issues for voters;
  • Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had a higher popularity rating (4.94 out of 10) than Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (4.22); and
  • 74 per cent think the government makes little difference to household finances, and 69 per cent think government policies make little difference to the country's finances.

On leadership, the Australian Election Study found Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had more negative evaluations than any major party leader since the leadership questions were first asked in 1993.

The survey also found Australians are growing less likely to align with one of the major political parties.

"Partisanship has declined gradually over time to a record low for both the Labor and Liberal parties, at 30 and 33 per cent respectively, while numbers who align with no party at all, or who align with the Greens, have been steadily rising over time," said ANU researcher Sarah Cameron.

"The 2016 election continued the trend of elections being won despite low levels of leader popularity. Kevin Rudd's 2007 election was the last time a newly elected Prime Minister enjoyed a high level of popularity amongst Australians.

"The 2010, 2013, and 2016 elections each saw newly elected Prime Ministers fail to reach above the half way point on a ten-point scale of how much voters liked the leader."

The 2016 Australian Election Study, however, found strong support for Australia's immigration program, with 56 per cent support for offshore processing, although 40 per cent supported resettlement in Australia.

It also found strong support for Indigenous recognition in the Constitution (79 per cent) and support for same sex marriage (70 per cent).

The Election Survey also found strong support for medically-assisted euthanasia (77 per cent), and for women to have the right to obtain an abortion (69 per cent), while 43 per cent believed smoking marijuana should not be a criminal offence.

"Australians' support for Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians and for marriage equality suggests that any public votes on these issues will succeed," said Dr Jill Sheppard from the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods.

"This should provide some relief to the Government amid the torrent of bad news in these results."

"As the Victorian Government moves to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, the very high levels of support for the decriminalisation of euthanasia in this survey shows there is mood for change across the country."

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