It’s the environment, stupid

ANU has today released the results of our first ‘ANU Governance Poll’. Full results are on the poll website, but here are a few of my favourite facts:

  • The environment has shot up the rankings. The graph below shows the share of people rating it as the most important issue facing the country. As recently as 2004, only 6% rated it the top issue. Now, 19% do. When it comes to what Australians say should be discussed at the 2020 summit, the environment trumps all issues. (This is very much an Australian thing – the environment doesn’t make Americans’ top 5 list of important issues.)
  • By international standards, Australians are pretty happy with their institutions, and pretty trusting of their politicians. They even trust universities – though not as much as they trust the defence forces.
  • The one issue on which Australians are less happy is the government’s handling of health care. This looms as a big issue for lower-income respondents in particular.  12% of those in households with an annual pre-tax income below $40,000 rate it as the top issue for the 2020 summit to discuss, compared with 6% of those in households with an income above $100,000.
  • Respondents favour more spending on education, health, and the environment, but few favour more spending on culture.
  • When we break down the results by age, the results look almost exactly the same for younger and older respondents. I think this was reflected in the policy proposals of last weekend’s Youth 2020 summit. As a discussion on Peter Martin’s blog showed, most of the proposals were not on ‘yoof issues’, but on mainstream issues such as funding research on vaccines and teacher merit pay.
  • When we break down the results by the respondent’s educational attainment, we find that those who think that education is the most important issue facing the country are… those with more education. University graduates (6%) are three times as likely to rate it as the top issue as secondary school graduates (2%).
  • Conversely, university graduates are less likely to express a great deal of confidence in universities (20%) than secondary school graduates (27%).
  • Perhaps related to this, the rich are much more optimistic about the lives of today’s children than are the poor.

Percentage of respondents who say that the environment is the most important issue facing Australia

The sample is 1000 telephone respondents, surveyed from 16-30 March 2008. The 95% confidence interval on most estimates is about 3%. And stay tuned for the ANU prediction markets…

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9 Responses to It’s the environment, stupid

  1. Timh says:

    I would have thought that the environment was more a European thing. Maybe I wrong.

    Still, that is an interesting result and it would be even more interesting to know the reasons behind it.

  2. hc says:

    Timh, I wonder whether climate change news, the oil price hikes and skyrocketing food prices have anything to do with it.

    Following the oil price hikes of the 1970s there was the same surge in interest in environmental and resource depletion issues.

  3. Patrick says:

    Tim Blair has a number of posts pointing out that what appears to be behind it is either false consciousness or socially constructed (and false) responses.

    He highlights the issue, as summarised by one of his commenters:

    ‘Urgent action’ is for other people.


    Following the oil price hikes of the 1970s there was the same surge in interest in environmental and resource depletion issues.

    You will recall the quality of thinking that surge in interest led to!

  4. Graham Young says:

    I think you’ll find the reason for the concern about the environnment is driven by the drought. Or at least that’s what our qualitative polling from last year seemed to indicate. Unfortunately the ANU polling is a pretty blunt instrument for measuring these sorts of attitudes. We found that rather than referring to “the environment” respondents were most likely to use words like “climate change”, and that there was a high probability that “water” would be used in close association.

    The ANU sample is probably too small, but I’d be interested in state comparisons, because we found that concern about climate change was less in WA, where they had gotten on top of their water problems by installing desal, than in the east.

  5. Aussie Equitist says:

    Personally, I would say that society (and its sub-sets of family and community) ought to take precedence – but it is high time that humanity considered the inherently inter-related nature of environment, society, economics and politics.

    What I don’t get, is how we have this concurrent dichotomy of concerns about slowing economic growth and global warming!

    Why do so few people get it, that: unbridled economic growth for growth’s sake is the core problem behind inequality, political instability and environmental degradation (and warming) across the globe!?

    Capitalist dogma relies on competition and reckless over-consumption, which predictably leads to polarisation of income, wealth, opportunity and power – and social, political and environmental instability. So-called tricke-down effects are but false promises, which are inevitably belied by monopoly and duopoly effects.

    Is it not obvious that the past 200 years of over-specialisation of labour, monocultural agriculture and over-consumption is unsustainable – that we have been destructively wasting resources and depriving future generations!?

    Surely, it is no coincidence that Australia has been experiencing a simultaneous rise in consumption, household indebtedness and a reduction in the wages proportion of GDP!?

    Nor is it a surpise that much of that debt is foreign – but what happens to our economy when the under-regulated “free marketeer” parasites simultaneously call up those debts?

    Why are people not alarmed at the trend that most profitable “industries” in our economy are parasitic i.e. banking, finance, insurance and mining/extraction!?

    Clearly, we need a paradigm shift towards responsible and sustainable interactions with our planet – and that the current global “credit crunch” and looming “recession” ought to be seen as challenges and opportunities for positive socio-enviro-polico-economic change!?

    I recently sourced a copy of the documentary film ‘The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil’ – see:-

    If Australia was forced to close its borders, due to sudden-onset but long-lasting international pandemic or outbreak of world war, how long would it take us to adapt?

    What can we learn from the Cuba response – particularly as regards prevention?

    PS In this climate of global terrorism, is large-scale privatised grid-based power and water supply desirable – or even sensible? Surely, it is preferable to subsidise decentralised (in-situ) water harvesting and power generation!?

  6. Aussie Equitist says:

    Oooooooooops – apologies for all the typo’s in my previous entry!

  7. Patrick says:

    Hey, that’s not fair, Australia survived peak oil as well!

    Ooops, wait a minute, it hasn’t happened yet 🙂

    And this one goes in the great unasked questions of all time:

    What can we learn from the Cuba response

    What can’t we learn from Cuba? Why don’t we ask this more often?

  8. Molesworth says:

    Graham, what you say makes a lot of sense. It seems very plausible that a lot of the increase in concern about “the environment” is climate change related and can be traced to the drought and specific issues like water restrictions.

    I’m also interested in what part the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and all of the associated media coverage played in taking people from “There’s a terrible drought and water restrictions are killing my lawn” to “We need to act now on climate change”. My hunch is that it was significant, not by itself but because it helped popularise a simple and plausible explanation for things that were already all over the news and were increasingly impacting on people’s lives. My guess is that it helped people tie the more abstract issue of climate change to vote-changing bread-and-butter concerns like access to water and the price of food.

    Climate change may have taken on a life of its own now though, unconnected with water shortages and smash hit feature documentaries. If you look at Newspoll’s environment issue importance ratings there appears to be at least a ten point surge between mid 2005 and early 2007 (the question wasn’t asked between these dates) but then a levelling off. The rating has been fairly stable since early 2007 but water’s importance has fallen steadily as the rain has returned (water was introduced as a separate issue in early 2007). Perhaps this suggests that the drought and Al Gore came together to drive up the importance of climate change in the polls, but that other factors are now sustaining it.

  9. Verdurous says:

    Maybe…just maybe…the newfound attention on the environment is reflective of the underlying truth that the world is seriously overstretched and that we are altering fundamental chemical and biological balances that threaten the future of human survival. Just a thought. “Limits to growth” strikes back !.

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