Electorate takes softer line than pollies

Michael McDonald

Australian voters tend to accept difference and change better than the politicians they voted for, judging by a recent report.

On December 19 the Australian National University released its Trends in Australian Political Opinion – Results from the Australian Election Study 1987–2016, written by Sarah M Cameron and Ian McAllister.

Cameron and McAllister analysed trends in public opinion over some 28 years.

Among them they looked at responses to social issues that reflect which way politicians will jump in any given election. While much of the news reporting on the study has focused on an increasing dissatisfaction with the political class, the section on how attitudes change to major social issues is well worth a look.


The galahs at parliament.

The galahs at parliament.

Most of the graphs show a move to a more compassionate, easygoing society, despite the pollies running ‘law and order’ campaigns.

For instance, 69 per cent of those polled in 2016 believe that abortions should be able to be readily obtained compared to 46 per cent in 1979.

On the law and order issue, 65 per cent of people in 2016 were in favour of stiffer sentences for criminals compared to 88 per cent in 1987, while the percentage of those in favour of reintroducing the death penalty has gone from 60 to 40.

The good news for north coast choofers is that those believing using cannabis should be a criminal offence stands at 32 per cent, while support for it being legalised or decriminalised has risen to 43 per cent in 2016 from 32 per cent in 1990.

The graphs produced by Cameron and McAllister show liberalising trends across many other social issues, from Indigenous rights and gender equality to ‘turning back the boats’.

Even global warming is regarded by 62 per cent of those surveyed as a ‘serious threat’ compared to 55 per cent in 2010.

Lessening public confidence 

While Australia is by no means about to become as wildly progressive as Iceland or the Netherlands, the lessening confidence in our rulers combined with the trends on social issues tend to indicate that the use of scare tactics is running out of credibility, and that facts might now be preferred instead of bullshit.

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