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About the project

The Lowy Institute conducts significant research on Australia's diplomacy, and its long-standing public opinion polling program, the Lowy Institute Poll, has become an important input into Australian foreign policy since 2005. The Institute also runs the Australia-Papua New Guinea Network, an innovative public diplomacy project to foster people-to-people links between the two countries.

Australia is one of the most highly globalised nations on the planet and extremely dependent on an effective and active diplomacy. In a region undergoing rapid and transformational change, where shifting power balances are creating uncertainty about the existing regional order, Australia’s security and prosperity rely heavily on its international networks and relationships with both near neighbours and geographically-distant allies.

Research on Australia's diplomatic network

The Lowy Institute has conducted ground-breaking comparative research on Australia’s diplomacy and that of like-minded nations. It focuses on Australia's diplomatic network and the resourcing of its international policy infrastructure. It has also produced influential studies on public diplomacy, digital diplomacy, and consular affairs. The Institute’s work has been instrumental in shaping a parliamentary enquiry into Australia’s diplomatic network,  providing independent, non-partisan policy options to steer Australia’s diplomatic future. In 2016, the Lowy Institute released the Global Diplomacy Index, an interactive web tool which maps and ranks the diplomatic networks of all G20 and OECD nations. The interactive allows readers to visualise some of the most significant diplomatic networks in the world, see where nations are represented – by city, country, and type of diplomatic mission – and rank countries according to the size of their diplomatic network.

Australia-Papua New Guinea Network

In an important public diplomacy initiative, the Institute runs the Australia-Papua New Guinea Network, a program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to foster people-to-people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea. For more about the Australia-Papua New Guinea network and its activities, access the site here.

The Lowy Institute Poll

To inform the public debate on Australia's foreign policy, the Institute has conducted annual polling of Australian public opinion on foreign policy since 2005. The annual Lowy Institute Poll has become one of the Lowy Institute’s flagship publications. It is the leading tracking survey on Australian foreign policy, providing a reliable vehicle for understanding Australian attitudes towards a wide range of foreign policy issues, while being independent and methodologically rigorous. Over the course of the past decade the Poll has uncovered significant shifts in public sentiment, including towards our most important neighbours and partners. It has tracked attitudes on contentious international issues ranging from climate change to war in the Middle East.

The annual Poll is entirely funded by the Lowy Institute to ensure its ongoing independence, and its questionnaire and results are thoroughly reviewed by one of Australia’s most experienced polling experts, Sol Lebovic, the founder and former managing director of Newspoll. Data sets are deposited with the Australian Social Science Data Archive where they are available free of charge for public scrutiny.

One of the best ways to explore the data from our twelve years of polling is through our interactive site. Access the interactive here.

Alternatively, to download the poll reports for each year, click on these links:

In addition to its Australian polling program, the Lowy Institute has conducted influential polls in several of our most important neighbours in Indo-Pacific Asia, including India (2012), Indonesia (2006 and 2011), New Zealand (2007 and 2012), China (2009) and Fiji (2011).

 

Latest publications

Anxious about China, unsure about the US: Australians and the 2016 Lowy Institute Poll

It's likely 2016 will be remembered as a year of polls: the Brexit poll this week, the Australian election on 2 July, the US presidential election in November, and even a UN poll to select the next Secretary-General by year end.

The 2016 Lowy Institute Poll, released today, may not be quite on the same scale, but it's an important touchstone on how Australians are thinking about the world. This year, those views appear to be at a critical juncture.

Over the 12 years of Lowy Institute Polling (the first Lowy Poll was taken in 2005), Australians have generally been warm on our close friends in the English-speaking world when asked to rank their feelings towards various countries on a 'thermometer' scale of 0 to 100 degrees. New Zealand, the UK, the US, Canada and Ireland always come top or close to the top when we include them on the thermometer. We have been warm on like-minded nations in Europe and in our region: France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Singapore. We have warm to warmish feelings towards our Pacific neighbours: Fiji, Solomons, East Timor, Papua New Guinea. We have had middling to lukewarm sentiments about a bunch of countries in our region such as Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea. We are cold on the usual suspects: North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Libya. 

And then there is China.

When we ask Australians about China it's always a complicated story. This year, however, it's more complicated than ever, and Australians' attitudes seem to have reached a turning point.

China, our largest trading partner since 2007, is now our 'best friend in Asia', according to Australian adults: 30% nominate China and 25% nominate Japan when we ask them to name our best friend in Asia. Two years ago, when we last asked this question, China and Japan  tied for first place. Yet on the 'feelings thermometer', Australians have always expressed warmer feelings towards Japan than towards China. This year, Japan is rated at 70° and China at 58°. This prompts the question: what exactly do Australians mean by 'friendship', where China is concerned?

China may be our best friend in Asia as of this year, and our largest trading partner since 2007, but it's a friend about which Australians have some serious reservations.

When asked about positive and negative influences on their views of China, Australians are overwhelmingly positive about the Chinese people (85% saying 'Chinese people you have met' are a positive influence), China's culture and history (a positive for 79%), and China's economic growth (a positive for 75%). However, there are some strong negatives too: 86% say 'China's human rights record' is a negative, 79% say 'China's military activities in our region' are a negative, and 73% say China's system of government is a negative. Its environmental record and investment in Australia are also negative influences.

As an illustration of this high level of anxiety about China, a substantial 74% of Australians are in favour of Australia conducting freedom of navigation operations in response to China's activities in the South China Sea.  

On the other side of the Asia Pacific is our other important partner, the US. Australian support for the US alliance has been one of the most consistent features of our polling. The proportion of the Australian population saying the alliance is either 'very', 'fairly' or 'somewhat' important for Australia's security has never slipped below 90% since we first asked this question in 2005. Australians always rate the US quite warmly on the feelings thermometer, with results ranging from a high of  73° last year to a low of 60° in 2007 (towards the end of the George W Bush presidency). This year, it's 68° — down 5°, making the US the only country to record a fall of any significance on the 2016 Lowy Institute thermometer. The alliance too has lost support: 71% say the alliance is 'very' or 'fairly' important for Australia's security. Still high, but down nine points on last year to a nine-year low in Lowy polling history.

Two years ago, when we asked Australians for the first time which relationship was more important — that with the US, or that with China — the US was the clear leader; 48% said the US, and 37% said China was the more important relationship in 2014. Two years later, however, it's a dead heat: in 2016, exactly the same number say China (43%) as say the US (43%) is the more important relationship.

But it's complicated. The Australian population is split down the middle on this question. Younger Australians (under 45) lean towards China, 51% saying it's the more important relationship, with 35% of that age group saying the US is more important. Older Australians (45 and over) see the US relationship as more important, with only 36% of them choosing China.

While we are divided between China and the US and many of us are anxious about China's intentions, we also appear to be quite concerned about what's going on in US politics at the moment. Nearly half (45%) of us say Australia should distance itself from the US if Donald Trump becomes president. Around half (51%) say we should remain close regardless of who is elected president; not a decisive vote of confidence and a result which suggests that the Trump factor may be having an impact on Australian support for the alliance.

Trump is not at all popular here: only 11% of Australians say they would prefer Trump as president, in results from separate Lowy polling in June; 77% prefer Hillary Clinton. And nearly six in ten (59%) say they would be less likely to support Australia 'taking future military action in coalition with the US under Donald Trump' if he wins the presidency. 

Our 2016 polling also has results on the other big votes this year. On the Australian election, the Liberal-Nationals Coalition wins hands down on foreign policy, with Australians preferring it to handle seven of eight key foreign policy issues including national security, the alliance, the economy and asylum seekers. Labor is preferred only on the issue of climate change. 

Australians are also decidedly against Brexit, with 51% in the 'remain' camp, against only 19% on the side of the  'leavers'. And on the last of the big votes this year, Australians are in two minds about Kevin Rudd as UN Secretary-General: 46% saying he would make a good Secretary-General, and 49% saying he would not.

Drawing on the last 12 years of data, this year's Poll highlights some important shifts in the way Australians are thinking about the world and our major global relationships. Our political leaders have their work cut out for them after 2 July.

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The Lowy Institute Poll 2016

The 2016 Lowy Institute Poll looks at Australians' reactions to a year of elections − the Australian election, the US presidential election and the selection of a new UN Secretary-General. 

The Poll, the twelfth annual Poll by the Lowy Institute, also examines attitudes to other important issues such as freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, foreign investment in Australian farmland and military engagement in Iraq and Syria. The Poll provides data on how public opinion on some of our most important relationships, including those with China and the United States, is evolving.

To explore the updated 2016 Lowy Poll Interactive, click here. See the full 2016 report below.

2016 Lowy Institute polling: Australian opinion on British exit from European Union

A majority of Australians think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union, according to new Lowy Institute polling. In a decisive result, 51% of Australian adults say the United Kingdom ‘should remain a member of the European Union’, while only 19% say it should leave.

Further, when asked about the impact of Brexit on the European Union, most Australians anticipate that the EU will sustain some damage. Around a third of the population (29%) believe that Brexit ‘will lead to the break-up of the European Union over time’. A significant number (41%) say ‘the European Union will be damaged but it will recover’. Very few say that ‘there will be no impact on the European Union’ (11%). Photo: Flickr user Photography by eje.

2016 Lowy Institute polling: Majority of Australians favour a local build for next-generation submarines

Australians have strong views on where Australia’s next submarines should be built, with the latest Lowy Institute polling finding that 70% of Australian adults want the submarines ‘built mainly in Australia, even if this will cost us more’.

Only 26% say ‘the submarines should be built at the best possible price, even if this means they are mainly built overseas’.

The site of the submarine construction project has been a topic of considerable public and political debate, with pressure to involve Australian shipbuilders and labour to stimulate the domestic economy and provide jobs.    

Lowy Institute Poll: Most Australians would back tougher target to win agreement in Paris

As Paris prepares for the arrival of delegates from 196 countries who will take part in international climate negotiations next week, Lowy Institute Polling suggests the majority of adult Australians (62%) have given the Turnbull Government the green light to strengthen its commitment on emission reductions, if that's what it takes to reach a global agreement.

Only 36% of the 1002 people who took part in the latest Lowy Institute Poll were of the the view the government should 'stick to its target regardless of what other countries do'. The national telephone poll took place between 25 October and 4 November.

Lowy Institute Executive Director Dr Michael Fullilove said: 'It’s very clear that Australians want our government to contribute to a global agreement on climate change in Paris, if necessary by committing to stronger emissions reduction targets'.

The poll result comes after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a little noticed move on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit  that appeared to open up some ground between his government's stance on climate change negotiations, and that of his predecessor.

A joint statement issued by Turnbull with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, included a commitment to secure an agreement in Paris with a long-term goal. 

The Climate Institute's Erwin Jackson told the Fairfax Press this was the first time the Government has explicitly supported a long term carbonisation signal as a clear objective for Paris.                                           

As Jackson wrote in 'Paris Climate Talks: The World has changed since Copenhagen', the Paris negotiations seek to establish an agreement for a new common international framework that will drive domestic action.

However the Lowy Institute Poll suggested that while the majority of Australians are hoping for a decisive outcome from Paris, they are divided on the best policy solution at home.

When asked to choose between two alternatives, the current Direct Action scheme that pays business for emissions reductions projects, and the introduction of a price on carbon or an emissions trading scheme, 51%  of Australians favoured Direct Action while 43% opted for an ETS or price on carbon.

The Lowy Institute Poll also found concern about climate change continues to grow. Just over half of Australians (52%) indicated they believe global warming is a a 'serious and pressing problem' and we should take steps now, 'even if this involves a significant cost'.

The shift in opinion on climate change has been one of the most dramatic trends recorded over the course of the Lowy Institute Poll. It began asking Australians about climate change in 2006, asking survey participants to select the response which most closely mirrors their point of view: 

  • Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.
  • The problem of global warming should be addressed, but its effects will be gradual, so we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost.
  • Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs.

As demonstrated in the table below, concern about global warming was highest in 2006, a year of severe drought in Australia. Over the next few years, the sense of urgency abated but then opinion turned again. The Lowy Institute has recorded an upward trend in successive polls since 2012.

2015 Lowy Institute polling: Views on climate action ahead of United Nations climate negotiations in Paris

As the world begins negotiations at the Paris international climate negotiations next week, the majority of adult Australians (62%) say the Government should be prepared to make stronger commitments on emissions reductions in the interests of reaching a global agreement, according to Lowy Institute polling conducted last month. Only 36% say the government should ‘stick to its target regardless of what other countries do’.

The telephone poll, conducted between 25 October and 4 November this year, confirmed the upward trend in concern about climate change which the Lowy Institute has recorded in successive polls since 2012. 

More than half of the Australian population – 52% – now say global warming is ‘a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’.  This is an increase of 16 percentage points since 2012.

Despite this rising concern, Australians are divided on the best economic policy to deal with the problem of carbon emissions.

When forced to choose between the current Direct Action scheme and a price on carbon or emissions trading scheme, marginally more Australians (51%) say we should ‘continue the Government’s Direct Action plan which pays businesses for emissions reduction projects’. Nevertheless, despite the abolition of the carbon tax in 2014, a surprising 43% would prefer that the Australian Government ‘introduce an emissions trading scheme or price on carbon, where people pay for their carbon emissions’.

Time for a stronger U.S.-Australia alliance?

In the wake of a report from CSIS and ANU calling for a stronger US alliance refocused on the Asia Pacific, Alex Oliver examines the eleven years of Lowy Institute polling on attitudes to the US alliance, and cautions that, despite Australians' strong support for the alliance, any refocusing of the alliance to the Asia region will require strong advocacy to win over a nervous public. The article, published in the National Interest, can be accessed here

Time for a stronger U.S.-Australia alliance?

In the wake of a report from CSIS and ANU calling for a stronger US alliance refocused on the Asia Pacific, Alex Oliver examines the eleven years of Lowy Institute polling on attitudes to the US alliance, and cautions that, despite Australians' strong support for the alliance, any refocusing of the alliance to the Asia region will require strong advocacy to win over a nervous public. The article, published in the National Interest, can be accessed here

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