Populist and Nativist Views Still Prevail in Australia

At a global level, perceptions that the system is broken remain as prevalent today as they were weeks after the election of Donald Trump and months after a majority of British voters opted to leave the European Union – and the same is true in Australia.

The author(s)

  • David Elliott Director - PA
Get in touch
  • Two in three Australians believe the economy is rigged to favour the rich and powerful
  • Traditional political parties and politicians don’t care about people like them (64%)
  • Australia needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful 

A new Ipsos survey of more than 18,000 adults from 27 countries finds that the overall incidence of populist sentiment across the world has remained virtually unchanged and that nativist attitudes have gained some ground since then. The survey also shows that, while some countries show an uptick in populist opinions (e.g., Sweden, South Africa, Argentina, India) or in nativist ones (e.g., Mexico, Sweden again, and Japan), they have receded in other parts of the world (Israel, Italy, Hungary and the United States).

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

  • 66% say the economy is rigged to favour the rich and powerful (down 2 percentage points since 2016)
  • 64% feel that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them (up 3 points)
  • 47% agree that their country’s society is broken (unchanged from 2016).

This feeling of the system being broken only increases when compared to the majority of citizens across the world:

  • 70% say the economy is rigged to favour the rich and powerful (up 1 percentage point between December 2018 and April 2019)
  • 66% feel that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them (up 2 points)
  • 54% agree that their country’s society is broken (down 4 points).

In this context, Australia is in line with the rest of the world with many wanting more hands-on leadership and/or leaning towards ‘citizen-first’ views.

Populist sentiment is prevalent within Australia:

  • 67% say Australia needs a strong leader to take it back from the rich and powerful (down 4 points)
  • 63% feel that experts in Australia don’t understand the lives of people like them (up 3 points)
  • 50% say that, to fix it, Australia needs a strong leader willing to break the rules (unchanged).

Populist sentiment in Australia closely reflects the global average:

  • 64% say their country needs a strong leader to take it back from the rich and powerful (up 1 point)
  • 62% feel that local experts don’t understand the lives of people like them (up 2 points)
  • 49% say that, to fix it, their country needs a strong leader willing to break the rules (unchanged).

Around half of Australians have nativist views:

  • 53% say employers should prioritise hiring people of this country over immigrants when jobs are scarce (up 2 points)
  • 59% disagree Australia would be better off if it let in all immigrants who wanted to come here (down 1 point)
  • 43% agree that immigrants take important social services away from ‘real’ Australians (up 4 points)

Again, Australia is close to the global average for these nativist views, although the global average for employers should prioritise hiring people of their country over immigrants when jobs are scarce is somewhat higher at 60% (up 4 points).

  • 60% disagree their country would be better off if it let in all immigrants who wanted to come there (up 1 point)
  • 43% agree that immigrants take important social services away from their country’s ‘real’ nationals (up 4 points)

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 strengthened towards these ideals just a little, particularly nativist views. Interestingly, in comparison to 2016 we’ve seen a slight strengthening of the belief that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them, which is up 3 points. This is a sentiment reflected in the decreasing primary vote for Liberal and Labor and the increase in votes to independents and minor parties over time and which has been particularly evident in the last 10 years.”

Detailed global findings

A Broken System

Sixty-six percent of Australians agree that their economy is rigged in favour of the rich and powerful, although down 2 points from 2016. This is in line with the sentiment of the majority of every single country except for Sweden. More than 70% are in agreement across Latin America, Eastern Europe (except Poland) and Southern Europe.

Since December 2016, this opinion has increased by 11 percentage points in each of Sweden, Japan and Argentina – all of which have seen consumer confidence recede over the past year. However, it has receded in several countries: most of all in Israel, where the survey was conducted days before the April 2019 elections (by 15 points) and, to a lesser extent, in Hungary and Serbia (by 5 points each) and in Mexico and the United States (by 3 points each).

Australia is on par with the rest of the world, with only one in ten adults surveyed across the world disagreeing that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them (10% and 11% respectively). Since 2016, the perception of not being cared for by traditional parties and politicians has become a lot more prevalent in South Africa (up 13 points), Great Britain (up 11), as well as in Japan and Argentina (both up 9), and Sweden (up 8). It has receded notably in Israel (down 8), Serbia and Italy (both down 5).

In the meantime, the world’s feeling that “society is broken” has slightly receded from 58% in 2016 to 54% in 2019 (by 4 points). Australia however, is more cynical than the rest of the world and remains unchanged in feelings of society being broken (47% in both 2016 and 2019). Although agreement has dropped sharply in South Korea (down 29), Italy (down 19) and Mexico (down 15) – three countries that experienced political change during that time – and, to a lesser extent, in Belgium (down 13), Spain (down 9), Serbia (down 9), Turkey (down 7), Israel (down 7), France (down 6) and the US (down 6). Only Canada shows a double-digit increase in agreement (by 15 points), but notable gains are also seen in India (up 8), Peru (up 8), Great Britain (up 7) and Poland (up 5).

Populism

Australia has seen a minor decrease (4 points down to 67%) in sentiment that their country needs a strong leader to take it back from the rich and powerful. Whereas globally, the share of adults who agree has remained nearly unchanged from 2016 to 2019 (up 1 point to 64%). Germany, Sweden and Japan continue to be the only countries surveyed where agreement is below 50%. However, Sweden has increased the most (by 10 points), followed by South Africa and India (both by 9 points). Countries where agreement has decreased the most are: Italy (down 8 points), Israel (down 6) and South Korea (down 6). The US shows a slight drop (down 3).

The proportion of adults surveyed who agree that fixing their country requires a strong leader willing to break the rules has not changed for Australia or globally since December 2016 (50% and 49% respectively). The prevalence of this opinion varies widely across countries with no clear regional pattern emerging. It has increased the most in Sweden (up 13 points), Belgium (up 11), South Africa (up 9), Argentina (up 8), and India (up 7). In contrast, it has dropped most in Serbia (down 13), Israel (down 11), Hungary (down 7), Italy (down 6), and the US (down 5).

The opinion that “experts don’t understand the lives of people like me” is shared by majority of people in nearly every country, with Australia at 63% (up 3 points). The perception that intellectual elites are estranged from people’s reality is most prevalent in Spanish-speaking countries and in France. Since 2016, it has grown by 2 points globally, reflecting greater increases in Germany (up 11), Japan (up 10), Sweden (up 9), Great Britain (up 8), Argentina (up 8) and South Africa (up 7). Israel (down 13) is the only country showing a drop of more than 5 points.

Nativism

Across the 27 countries surveyed, the proportion of adults who agree that “employers should prioritise natives over immigrants when jobs are scarce” has increased by 4 points since 2016 to 60%. Australian opinion on nativism has increased along with global attitudes, but to a lesser extent (up 2 points to 53%).

With few exceptions, the level of agreement is above the global average across Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia and below average in Western Europe and North America. Countries where nativist opinion has become more prevalent over the past few years include: Sweden (up 17 points), Japan (up 15), Mexico (up 14) and, to a lesser extent, Poland (up 8), South Korea (up 6), Canada (up 5) and Belgium (up 5). Italy (down 7) is the only country where this sentiment has lost ground by more than 4 points.

Australian and global opinions about immigrants taking important social services from real nationals align exactly, with agreement for both held by only 43% of all adults surveyed. This represents an increase of 4 percentage points since 2016 for both Australia and globally. Only three countries record a level of agreement of more than 50%: Turkey, Malaysia and Serbia. At the end of the spectrum, only a quarter of adults in Japan (25%) and in Poland (26%) agree. Five countries record double-digit gains in agreement (most of them having experienced an influx of refugees): Mexico (up 25), Peru (up 23), Serbia (up 17), Sweden (up 13) and Brazil (up 10). Agreement is also up in Germany (up 8), as well as in Japan (up 8), Poland (up 7) and Canada (up 6). Only Hungary (down 10) and Israel (down 9) show drops in agreement of more than five points.

Again, Australian and global opinions align exactly, with only 15% of adults agreeing that their country “would be better off if we let in all immigrants who wanted to come here”. Within Australia, sentiment receded only marginally by 1 point from 2016. Across the world, this proportion has barely changed between 2016 and 2019 (up just 1 point) and no country records an increase or a drop of more than 5 points. An outright majority of adults in 24 of the 27 countries surveyed disagree with this opinion.

The author(s)

  • David Elliott Director - PA

Society