Australians ‘not connecting politics with positive change’, survey finds

By Shannon Jenkins

October 12, 2020


Australians continue to be disengaged in politics despite the major disruptions of 2020 drawing increased attention to the actions of the nation’s leaders, new survey results have found.

An IPSOS poll of 1026 Australians found a majority of respondents are not interested in the outcomes of the political process anymore, or don’t expect any outcomes.

Conducted by The McKinnon Prize, the poll found that half of the respondents view COVID-19 as the biggest barrier for politicians to make significant policy change.

Of those who didn’t see COVID-19 as the main barrier, the biggest hurdles to positive change included the media and natural disasters, followed by corporate interests and general polarisation. Bureaucracy, climate change, opposition politicians, and minor parties/crossbenchers were also identified as barriers.

Read more: Opinion: our political arena is not fit for purpose in 21st century Australia

The survey found Australians’ ability to recognise and name politicians who they believe have had an impact has increased by 18% in 2020. However, while there has been a distinct increase in engagement with politics, 51% of the surveyed Australians couldn’t name a political achievement or a politician who had a positive impact in 2020.

Disengagement was higher among young people aged 18-29. While 39% of respondents over the age of 50 couldn’t name a politician who had a positive impact this year, that figure was 67% for young people.

McKinnon Prize ambassador and former Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone said the low level of engagement with politics indicated by the survey results was concerning considering the impact political decisions have had on everyone during 2020.

“Only 3% of Australians believed ‘making an impact’ is the most important quality in a political leader and fewer than 3% deemed collaboration as the most important quality in a political leader. It appears we are not connecting politics with positive change, nor acknowledging the way collaboration between political leaders can create real benefits in our own lives,” she said.

“On the upside, the single most important quality we look for in a political leader is ethical behaviour. If our political leaders can demonstrate ethical behaviour, Australians may be able to regain their confidence in the political process and switch back on.”

More than half of young Australians reported they are not consuming news at its source, and are either being served news via social media or not consuming news at all.

McKinnon Prize ambassador and former Labor minister Simon Crean argued Australians must have access to high-quality and credible information in order to engage with the political process.

“Right now, our poll is showing that approximately one-third of all Australians don’t consume news directly from credible news sources, which presents an enormous issue for democracy. This is even more prevalent in young people, as more than half of young Australians are either consuming no news or relying on curated feeds from social media platforms,” he said.

“This lack of interest in news may also contribute to less interest in our democratic process. It is concerning that 67% of young people could not name a politician who had a positive impact in 2020.

“While young people are engaged in important issues like climate change and refugee issues, it seems this interest isn’t translating into enthusiasm for our political process. It’s vital we seek to involve young Australians in the political process and demonstrate its importance to our everyday lives. Good leadership is critical to the success of this process.”

Nominations for The McKinnon Political Leader of the Year and The McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year are now open. Visit the McKinnon Prize website to place your nominations:

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