Archive for the 'Public opinion' Category

Complicated opinion on refugees

The latest Lowy Poll finds the usual hard-to-interpret results on refugees.

The idea of a queue clearly resonates, as 88% of Lowy’s respondents agreed with the proposition that “unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat are jumping the queue and getting in ahead of other asylum seekers wanting to come to Australia”. On the other hand, 43% agreed that “unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat are often fleeing war and conflict and Australia should give them a chance to set up a new life in a safe country”.

Lawyers have been prominent in the pro-refugee cause, and the way they look at the world may not always have helped politically. How many times have we heard the argument that Australia’s treatment of refugees breaches our “international obligations”? Only 32% of Lowy’s respondents agreed that “ïnternational treaty obligations mean Australia has to accept refugees regardless of how they arrive here”.

By far the most powerful pro-refugee material I have seen was the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From, which screened last week. Politically, stories are far more powerful than treaties.

(click on picture for more refugee polls) Read the rest of this entry »

How gay is America?

It’s not unusual for pollsters to find that their respondents over-estimate the prevalence of people or things in the news. But I was amazed at this Gallup poll that asked its respondents to estimate the proportion of Americans who are gay.

The mean estimate was around 25%, about seven times the likely real figure, and 150% higher than the commonly cited 10% figure from the long-ago discredited Kinsey report. Only 4% of Americans gave numbers in the correct less than 5% category, and even deeming any answer less than 10% as broadly right we still get to only 13% of Americans giving a correct answer. Even most gay people would have social networks that are more than 75% straight, so these numbers are bizarre.

The 10% figure is still sometimes cited by gay activists to bolster their political case, but other questions in the Gallup survey suggest that perceptions of levels of homosexuality make little difference to political views.


(click to expand)

Where family payments aren’t welfare

John Howard disliked the idea that family payments were ‘welfare’. That’s why they were called ‘family tax benefits’, to emphasise that FTB was giving families back their earned money, rather than giving them a handout. At least for the generation that Howard came from, self-reliance was an important middle class idea.

I’ve never bought this argument. You don’t have to pay tax to get FTB, and indeed it is most generous to those who have no or very low market incomes. It is largely managed by Centrelink, the key institution of the Australian welfare state.

Yet an Essential survey released yesterday suggests that most people take Howard’s view. Welfare should only go to those on low incomes, but family payments aren’t welfare, just help with raising kids (what do they think single mother benefits are?). At least they support cutting benefits at $150,000.

(Apologies for the low-quality image)

When might big-spending campaigns work?

The commenters on yesterday’s campaign finance post think that big ad campaigns don’t always work. That’s certainly the finding of the US literature on this subject – not that money never makes a difference, but that it interacts with so many other factors that there is no stable or predictable relationship between political spending and political outcomes.

Generally speaking, I believe the chances of any campaign over-turning stable elements of public opinion in the short to medium term are very low. The Howard government’s propaganda campaign on WorkChoices was doomed because the unions could tap into deep elements of public opinion. The importance of the union campaign against WorkChoices wasn’t that it changed minds, but that it kept the issue in people’s minds until polling day.

The more interesting campaigns are on unfamiliar issues, where public opinion is to a certain extent up for grabs. The mining tax was an example of this. Given existing tax and spend polling the issue could have headed in several directions if it had continued – we are generally in a pro-tax part of the political cycle if consequent spending the public approves of is emphasised, but opinion is also highly sensitive to situations in which workers may lose their jobs. Another factor in the mining tax case was that the government advertising in response to the miners was terrible, an off-putting lecture that did not hit existing pro-tax intuitions. Read the rest of this entry »

The start of a tax and spend turnaround?

The 2010 Australian Election Study is now available at the Australian Social Science Data Archive, so we can see the latest results in a long series of similarly-worded questions on tax and spend.


Question: If the government had a choice between reducing taxes or spending more on social services, which do you think it should do?

For the first time since 2001, more people say they want reduced taxes than more spending on social services. However the proportion of respondents wanting less tax is up only 3 percentage points. The main thing that has happened is a move from clear support for more spending on social services to a ‘depends’ option.

There are problems with this question. It omits the status quo, which is always popular if presented. It doesn’t make completely clear the options it is presenting, reducing taxes AND reducing social services (at least compared to what they might otherwise be) or spending more on social services AND paying higher taxes (at least compared to what they might otherwise be). But I think the consistent question lets us track broad sentiment over time. Maybe here there are some small signs of some changing views on this issue.

False tax and spend choices

Essential Research today kicked off the annual round of pre-budget tax and spend polls, but with some pretty bad questions. Take the question below on the goal of returning to surplus by 2012-13, which according to this poll most people think should be abandoned:

But how about if the question had been phrased:

Q. Do you think it is more important for the Government to return the budget to surplus by 2012/13 as planned – which may mean cutting services and raising taxes – OR should they delay the return to surplus and go deeper and deeper into debt, with more government spending each year diverted to paying interest?

Tax and spend questions need to spell out the full implications of choices for the results to be meaningful. The failure to explain the real alternatives also renders pointless a question on increased spending.

No trend in marriage opinion

Yesterday’s Essential Research result on same-sex marriage is looking like it might be a rogue poll, with today’s Nielsen survey finding no change in opinion over the same time period:

A blip in the same-sex marriage opinion trend?

Today’s Essential Research survey reports a drop in support for gay marriage since November 2010, from 53% to 49%. Those against are up from 36% to 40%.

The margin of error for a poll like this is about 3% in either direction, so it is possible that there is no real change. But this does seem to be the first poll for several years that has found minority support for same-sex marriage. While the demographics of opinion on this subject leave little doubt that there is an emerging clear majority view in support of same-sex marriage, the campaign for it may experience a few short term ups and downs.

Why no Coalition leader can back a carbon price

Essential Research has more polling today on the complex politics of climate change. There is still a small plurality - 47% versus 43% – in favour of taking action on climate change soon, and only 19% who say that we don’t need to take any action at all. That latter figure is consistent with the 18% Newspoll found late last year who said they don’t believe in climate change at all. So the hardcore sceptics are still significantly outnumbered.

But some of those who say we should act now lose their nerve when it comes to any actual plan to do something now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Buddhists second most popular religious group

Yesterday’s Essential Research poll asked about the fastest growing religion between 1996 and 2006. I would have guessed Buddhism, most people thought Islam, but Essential says the correct answer is Hinduism. Actually I think I am right – Hinduism grew more quickly than Buddhism in percentage terms, but Buddhism grew more in absolute terms.

Questions in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 show that Buddhists are the second most popular religious group in the country, after Christians. Consistent with comments on today’s thread, not many people have negative views of Hindu people, with the largest number having neither positive nor negative views. Predictably, Muslims are the least popular group.

Read the rest of this entry »