29 August 2023
Since Federation, Australia has been at the forefront of democratic innovation; from suffrage to preferential voting to the Hare-Clark model. A great strength of our electoral system is an openness and willingness to iterate and invest in reform.
Democracies across the world face unprecedented challenges, including an erosion of public faith in institutions and the proliferation of misinformation. Considering these headwinds, it has never been more important to ensure Australia’s electoral system is fit for purpose and maintains the confidence of Australians.
In 2021, The Susan McKinnon Foundation funded the newDemocracy Foundation to conduct three polls and examine how systemic, high quality opinion polling could have an impact on or improve the quality of public policy decision making in Australia (the Pilot). Building on this work, in 2022 the Foundation commenced an extended pilot in partnership with JWS Research to further test the capacity of non-partisan and non-advocacy focused opinion research to support more informed public policy debates and better decision making by government (the Extended Pilot).
The first poll conducted in the Extended Pilot tested public attitudes towards high government expenditure on social policy programs, particularly those which are forecasted to grow, e.g. NDIS and aged care. Read more here.
The second poll conducted in the Extended Pilot tested public attitudes towards electoral reform in Australia. Noting the advent of technological solutions and topical debates, the research sought information on how Australians understand the voting system as well as their views on online voting, political donations, and regulating truth in political advertising.
The quantitative research for this poll was in the field from 13 December 2022 to 15 January 2023.
The key objectives of this research were to understand:
- Knowledge and trust in the current electoral system and electoral processes.
- Whether there are any concerns around the integrity and trustworthiness of the current electoral systems.
- Awareness of the costs of the electoral system both in terms of running a State or Federal election and impositions on the public of physically having to go to a ballot box – as well as the social benefits of physical elections (the democracy sausage and the cake stall).
- What benefits or concerns might exist about using online or electronic voting systems technology for voting.
- The extent to which the public is aware of and willing to support political donation reform.
- The public’s openness to balancing the trade-off between free speech and regulating the content of political advertising.
Key insights arising from the research included:
- Only 45% of Australian voters have either complete (9%) or high (36%) trust and confidence in democracy as the way we decide on our government.
- The more knowledge and understanding voters say they have, the more trust and confidence they also have in democracy as the way we decide on our governments. The 45% of Australian voters have complete or high trust and confidence rises significantly to 57% among voters with good knowledge of the system.
- Voters see integrity of the process / being free of corruption as the greatest priority in relation to Australian elections (63% place this in their top three priorities, 38% rate it as their number one priority). Accuracy of counting / results (48%) and ease of understanding how to vote (41%) follow as top three priorities.
- No accountability for promises made during election campaigns (42%) is the biggest perceived threat to the integrity of Australia’s electoral process. This is followed by too much negative / uninformative political advertising (33%), a lack of trust in political candidates / parties (31%), and political donations by industry and business (30%).
- When given the choice to make, minimising election costs to taxpayers (37%) is ultimately of greater priority to voters than reducing donor influence (25%).
- When given the choice to make, there is far greater importance placed on regulating to remove false / negative content from political advertising (52%) than there is for freedom of speech (16%). Although voters are sceptical as to whether legislating truth in political advertising can work.
- Overall, Australian voters prefer early voting (66%) and online (42%) or electronic (18%) voting, but generational differences exist. While Post-War voters have a particular preference for voting early at federal elections, they (as well as Boomers) are significantly less likely to prefer online voting to paper ballots. Millennials and Gen X express the highest preference for online voting.
Further in-depth details, findings and insights relating to electoral reform were shared with relevant stakeholders, including Members of Parliament, government agencies and other interest groups at the time. The data set arising from the research is available for download. Details, findings and insights relating to the Extended Pilot will be published in due course.