Tuesday 12 Nov 2019 | 21:18 | SYDNEY
What's happening on
  • 12 Nov 2019 15:30

    Connecting the dots on the Blue Dot Network

    Beyond a press release trumpeting “high-quality infrastructure” and “global trust standards”, things are a bit fuzzy.

  • 12 Nov 2019 11:00

    Russia’s southern strategy

    The pace of Russian re-engagement in Africa and the Indian Ocean region has accelerated as US influence has waned.

  • 12 Nov 2019 06:00

    North Korea’s deadline logic

    Pyongyang has declared an end-of-year cut off in the nuclear talks, yet does such a deadline really matter?

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

The 2015 Lowy Institute Poll: What does it all mean?

The 2015 Lowy Institute Poll was released this morning. It's the eleventh annual Lowy Institute Poll.

It goes without saying that every year there are some fascinating results which shine a light on how Australians feel about critical foreign policy issues. With our established tracking questions, such as those about support for the US alliance or attitudes to global warming, the Poll also points out the longer-term trends in Australians' thinking on some of the complex challenges we face as a nation and a globe.

What is harder each year is to draw out some overarching 'theme', to try to articulate and summarise what the Poll says about the  direction or mood of the nation, at least insofar as it relates to the rest of the world. It's possible, of course, that there is no such theme: that Australians' responses to 30-odd questions about Australia's international relations do not encapsulate the national mood. On the other hand, maybe those responses do in fact give some valuable clues about our worldview. Either way, one of the questions asked around here between March and June is: what does it all mean?

The answer, in 2015, is that the world seems to be a bleak place to many Australians. Fewer Australians feel safe now that any any time during our 11-year polling history. Only 24% of Australian adults say they feel 'very safe' this year, 18 points down from the 42% who felt very safe when we last asked them in 2010.

Apart from feeling more insecure, Australians' optimism about their economy is at its lowest point since our first poll in 2005. Only 63% of Australians are either 'optimistic' or 'very optimistic' about Australia's 'economic performance in the world over the next five years'. This is 23 points lower than the peaks of 86% recorded in 2009-10 at the height of the financial crisis, and the single largest fall in optimism the Poll has recorded.

One doesn't need to look too far in our other results this year for the probable cause of this bleak outlook. It appears the threat of terrorism is being keenly felt here, after the Martin Place siege late last year and the gruesome scenes and confronting news coming out of Iraq and Syria. Terrorism-related risks rank first, second and third out of eight potential risks to Australia's security in the next ten years, with 69% of Australians rating 'the emergence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria' as a high risk to our security (the highest-ranked risk), and majorities seeing 'terrorist attacks on Australians overseas' and 'home-grown terrorism in Australia' as high risk. By comparison, risks of conflict in our region rank far lower in Australians' threat perceptions, with 'maritime disputes between China and its neighbours in Asian territorial seas' seen as  high risk by only 26% of Australians.

As speculation grows about Australia making further commitments to the US-led military effort in Iraq, it appears Australians may well back such commitments. Most of them (69%) support Australia's participation in military action against Islamic State in Iraq (air strikes and training and support to Iraqi forces), even though a majority believe that such participation increases the risk of terrorism to Australia now, and only 20% say it makes us safer from terrorism in the future.

Despite the bleak picture painted by Australians in this year's Poll, there is one group among them who have a slightly brighter outlook, and that's the group sometimes known as 'millennials' or generation Y (18-29 year-olds in our polling).

With 70% of Australians aged 18-29 feeling optimistic about Australia's economic performance overall (compared with only 54% of those aged 30 and over), it's clear these younger Australians have a brighter economic outlook. More of them feel a bit safer as well (85%, vs 78% of those older). As a group, their views are quite different from those of their elders in many other ways. In the lead-up to the Paris climate conference later this year, they are more likely to say the Government should make significant commitments on emissions reductions in those negotiations, so that other countries will be encouraged to do the same (70% vs 61% 30- years). They are less opposed to Chinese investment in residential real estate (55% saying there is too much investment from China, vs 74% of 30- years). They are less likely to support the recent cuts to the aid budget (33% in support, compared with 58% of 30- years). They are more likely to say the Australian Government should play an active role in pushing for the abolition of the death penalty internationally (62% vs 50% of 30- years). Surprisingly, they are more likely to see the US playing a more important and powerful role as a world leader in the future (15% vs 8% of 30- years).

Their views about world leaders are also revealing. Among our list of ten world leaders, US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is admired by fewer 18-29 year-olds (59% admire her) than their 30- years  counterparts (81% of whom admire her). Millennials are much less likely to admire the Pope (56% vs 78% 30- years). They appear to be less well-informed about international leaders than their elders: 63% of 18-29s 'don't know' Xi Jinping (compared with 50% of 30- years); 53% don't know Joko Widodo (vs 39% 30-) and 19% don't know Vladimir Putin (vs 5% 30-) when asked whether they admire these leaders.

This is also the age group which has become somewhat notorious in the context of the Lowy Institute Poll for their attitudes to democracy, with less than half of them (49% this year) saying 'democracy is preferable to any other kind of government'.

There is a statement often attributed to Churchill (probably incorrectly) along the lines of 'if you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart; if you are not a conservative at 30, you have no head'. It's possible these differing attitudes of younger Australians derive from youthful idealism or rebelliousness. It's possible their lack of knowledge, such as their relative ignorance of world leaders' names, derives simply from their youth rather than from any more sinister self-absorption or insularity.

Either way, the more positive and optimistic outlook of these young Australians brings a modicum of relief from the more gloomy worldview of the rest of the Australian population. 

Photo by Flickr user Crawford Learmonth.

Lowy Institute Poll 2015

After a year marked by an unusual intensity in Australia’s interactions with the world, the 2015 Lowy Institute Poll includes findings from a mix of new questions together with established tracking questions on some of the critical issues of our time.

In this year’s Poll, we asked Australians about risks to Australia’s security such as terrorism and the risk of military conflict in our region. The Poll investigates attitudes to military participation in Iraq, the role the Government should play in the upcoming international climate negotiations, views on foreign investment in real estate, feelings about nations such as China and Indonesia, and attitudes to a range of foreign leaders.

In the eleven years of the Lowy Institute Poll, our goal has been to broaden and deepen the debate about Australia’s foreign policy, based on real data on how Australians think about the world. The 2015 Lowy Institute Poll continues this tradition, with a fascinating set of new results. To explore the 2015 Lowy Poll Interactive, click below.

Data retention scheme has majority support from Australians

New Lowy Institute polling released today shows that the Australian Government's data retention ('metadata') laws, which passed the parliament last night, have the support of a clear majority of Australians.

When asked whether 'legislation which will require Australian telecommunications companies to retain data about communications such as phone calls, emails and internet usage, but not their content' is justified, 63% of the adult population say it is 'justified as part of the effort to combat terrorism and protect national security'. Only one-third (33%) say it 'goes too far in violating citizens' privacy and is therefore not justified.'

Younger Australians (18-29) are more likely to say the legislation is not justified (47%), but this age group is divided about the policy, with 50% saying it is justified. 

'Australians appear to accept some infringements on their privacy in the interests of fighting terrorism and protecting national security,' said Lowy Institute Executive Director Dr Michael Fullilove today. 'This result is consistent with 2013 Lowy Institute polling which found that most Australians believed the government had struck about the right balance between protecting the rights of citizens and fighting terrorism.'  

This result is drawn from the forthcoming 2015 Lowy Institute Poll, the full version of which will be released in June 2015. The Lowy Institute Poll is based on a nationally representative telephone survey of 1200 Australian adults between 20 February and 8 March 2015. The Poll's error margin is approximately -/- 2.8%.  For more information see Lowy Institute press release. 

Australians shifting on climate change

A month ago my colleague John Connor wrote an op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald welcoming the fact that for the first time in years, climate change was a major story coming out of the Lowy Institute's poll of public attitudes to international affairs. Expectation for leadership on the issue was up, and a majority of Australians thought we should act on climate rather than wait for international consensus.

The Climate Institute's own comprehensive annual public opinion poll, released just last week, found similar views, buttressed by a number of additional questions around international action. 

Percentage of Australians who want their nation to be a leader in climate solutions, based on Climate of the Nation research.

In our poll, 56% of respondents felt the federal government has the most responsibility to take a leading role in addressing climate change, followed by global organisations such as the UN (43%). Just 8% think the federal government should take no action on climate change. Yet views on the Government's performance are significantly lower than a year ago, at net differential of -18, from -1 in 2013.

Like the Lowy poll, we also found that a growing number of Australians want the nation to lead on finding solutions to climate change.

A total of 61% hold this view this year, the highest result since 2008 (see graph). Women and younger Australians are the most ambitious. Some 64% of women want Australia to be a leader compared to 58% of men, and 64% of Australians under 55 years of age want leadership, compared to 56% of older people. 

Views are not just growing stronger on leadership and responsibility, but also on policies and political parties. A majority (57%) think the Abbott Government should take climate change more seriously. Ambition again is strongest among women and Australians under 55, both at 61%. 

Deep cynicism permeates the views towards both political parties on their approach to climate change. Only 19% of Australians agree that the Coalition has an effective plan to tackle climate change. A slightly higher 26% agree Labor has an effective plan. These results are unchanged from 2013.  The 'Direct Action' badge does not shift the views of many Australians about the Government's plans on climate change, with only 22% agreeing that the 'Direct Action' policy is credible.

What these views tell us is that no politician is off the hook for addressing climate change, whichever end of the spectrum they represent. Beyond the domestic political impacts of attempts to remove the carbon price and calls for the weakening of the Renewable Energy Target, international processes will also come into play (the Climate Change Authority has just released a paper on key priorities and processes of the international framework to 2020).

Countries ranging from the US, China, Brazil, the EU nations, Mexico and New Zealand are initiating processes to define new emission reduction contributions. Like the recent announcements by President Obama (that his Administration will regulate major emission sources such as power stations and vehicles) when these new and stronger emission targets are announced over the next 12 months it will permeate the Australian debate.

Some in Australia's body politic would like to think that climate change will go away with the axing of carbon tax, but the storm brewing from public expectation and international action will be too strong to leave our political representatives unscathed. 

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