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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

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

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. 

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