‘Broken system’ sentiment, populist and nativist views still prevail in Australia, in line with global views

• A little over six (63%) in ten Australians surveyed believe the economy is ‘rigged’ to favour the rich and powerful • A similar proportion believe traditional political parties and politicians don’t care about people like them (62%) • Two thirds (66%) agree Australia needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful

The majority of citizens in most of 25 countries surveyed by Ipsos express feelings of alienation when thinking about their country. The Ipsos Broken System Sentiment 2021 survey of more than 19,000 adults finds perceptions of a broken political and economic system prevailing in most countries, often accompanied by populist and anti-elite sentiment and nativist views and the same is true in Australia, although often to a lesser extent.

Broken System Sentiment

In Australia around three in five people surveyed feel left out of the “normal order” of life here:

  • 63% say the economy is ‘rigged’ to favour the rich and powerful (down 3 percentage points since 2019 and 5% since 2016)
  • 62% feel that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them (down 2 points since 2019 but up 1 point from 2016)
  • 53% feel we need a strong leader willing to break the rules (up 3 points from 2019 and 2016)
  • 66% agree we need a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful (down 1 point from 2019 and 5 points from 2016)
  • 59% believe experts in Australia don’t understand the lives of people like them (down 4 points from 2019 and 1 point from 2016)
  • 45% agree that their country’s society is broken (down 2 points from 2019 and 2016).

Commenting on the findings, David Elliott, Director, Ipsos Australia Social Research Institute, said: “These latest findings are evidence that while Australians are at lower levels for populist and nativist views and beliefs the system is broken, our views have mostly remained stable or, in the case of the system is broken, have improved slightly.”

This feeling of the system being broken only increases when looking at the global findings. On average, 56% agree their country’s society is broken and 57% agree that their country is in decline. To fully grasp the prevalence of social and political disaffection, Ipsos designed the “System Is Broken” Index, based on the level of agreement with five statements:

  • “The economy is rigged to favour the rich and powerful” (averaging 71% agreement in the 25 countries surveyed)
  • “Traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people ‘like me’” (68%)
  • “Local experts don’t understand the lives of people ‘like me’” (65%),
  • The country “needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful” (64%), and
  • To fix the country, “we need a strong leader willing to break rules” (44%).

The four countries with the highest levels of alienation are all in Latin America – Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Chile.

Since 2016, broken-system sentiment has gained the most ground in Japan, South Africa, Sweden, the United States, and Argentina; it has receded most in Spain, Mexico, and France. Compared to 2019, months before the pandemic, it has increased most in Malaysia and decreased most in Great Britain. 

Broken-system sentiment is highly linked to populist sentiment, resentment of elites, and natives-first/anti-immigration views. Ipsos also found that its System Is Broken Index is highly correlated with both the Social Progress Imperative’s Social Progress Index, an outcomes-based indicator of how well citizens’ social and environmental needs are met, and Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Countries with higher levels of wellness, equality, inclusion, sustainability, personal freedom, and safety and those with lower levels of perceived public-sector corruption tend to show lower levels of broken-system sentiment.

B1

Populism and resentment of elites

Populist and resentment sentiment is prevalent within Australia:

  • 78% agree that politicians always end up finding ways to protect their privileges
  • 66% say the political and economic elite don’t care about hard-working people
  • 63% think the main divide in our society is between ordinary citizens and the political and economic elite
  • 53% agree politicians should be able to say what’s on their minds regardless of what anyone else thinks
  • 54% say the most important political issues should be decided directly by the people through referendums, not by the elected officials
  • 17% of those surveyed identify in any way with their country’s elite, where the “elite” is widely perceived (62%) as a closely connected group with similar interests and views.

Populist sentiment in Australia is behind that of the global average:

  • 81% agree that politicians always end up finding ways to protect their privileges
  • 72% say the political and economic elite don’t care about hard-working people
  • 70% think the main divide in our society is between ordinary citizens and the political and economic elite
  • 62% agree politicians should be able to say what’s on their minds regardless of what anyone else thinks
  • 60% say the most important political issues should be decided directly by the people through referendums, not by the elected officials.

Populist/anti-elite sentiment is strongly correlated with broken-system sentiment; it is most prevalent in Chile, Hungary, Colombia, Peru, and Russia. 

Nativist views

Nativist views vary in their prevalence in Australia

  • 53% say employers should prioritise hiring people in Australia over immigrants when jobs are scarce (down 1 point from 2019 and up 1 point from 2016)
  • 30% agree Australia would be stronger if we stopped immigration (no change from 2016) – 46% disagree
  • 36% agree that immigrants take jobs from ‘real’ Australians (down 1 point from 2016) – 42% disagree.

Again, Australia is close to the global average for these nativist views:

  • 57% say employers should favour natives over immigrants when jobs are scarce
  • 38% agree their country would be stronger if it stopped immigration (while 33% disagree)
  • 38% say immigrants take jobs away from their country’s ‘real’ nationals (while 35% disagree).

Ipsos designed a Nativism Index based on the levels of agreement with these three statements. It shows nativist sentiment is most prevalent in Turkey, Malaysia, Colombia, Peru, and Russia and least so in Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, and Spain.

B2

The Nativism Index is strongly correlated with the “System Is Broken” Index, indicating how much social and political alienation and anti-immigration views tend to go hand in hand.

Since 2016, nativist sentiment has grown most in Peru, Sweden (where it was marginal), Japan, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey. Meanwhile, it has receded most in the U.S., Canada, Spain, Italy, and Hungary.

About the Study

This study did not have any external sponsors or partners.  It was initiated and run by Ipsos, because we are curious about the world we live in and how citizens around the globe think and feel about their world.

These are the results of a 25-country survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 19,017 adults aged 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey, and 16-74 in 20 other markets between March 26 and April 9, 2021.

The sample consists of approximately 1,000 individuals in each of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the U.S., and 500 individuals in each of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Hungary, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, and Turkey.

The samples in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the U.S. can be taken as representative of these countries’ general adult population under the age of 75.

The samples in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey are more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent than the general population. The survey results for these countries should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more “connected” segment of their population.

The data is weighted so that each country’s sample composition best reflects the demographic profile of the adult population according to the most recent census data.

Where results do not sum to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses, or the exclusion of don't know or not stated responses.

Sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error. The precision of online surveys conducted on Global Advisor is measured using a Bayesian Credibility Interval. Here, the poll has a credibility interval of +/-3.5 percentage points for countries where the sample is 1,000+ and +/- 4.8 points for countries where the sample is 500+. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please go to: https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/2017-03/IpsosPA_CredibilityIntervals.pdf.

As a foundation member of the Australian Polling Council Ipsos complies with the Council’s Code of Conduct.  The purpose of the Code is to provide journalists and the public with greater confidence and trust in publicly released polling and survey data. We strongly encourage the inclusion of methodological details in any reference to published Ipsos results. 

This study is compliant with the Australian Polling Council Code of Conduct. The Long Methodology Disclosure Statement for the study will be available at https://www.ipsos.com/en-au/disclosure_statements within two business days.

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