On Tuesday the 4th of December 2018, Professor Andrew Markus and Monash University published the results of the eleventh Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion national survey. The survey offers a comprehensive view of Australian attitudes towards social cohesion and immigration, and generates insightful conclusions about the ability of Australia to maintain a socially cohesive society. Despite the emerging politicisation of the issue of immigration, and concerns regarding population growth, the 2018 report found large measures of stability across key indicators of social cohesion, and a continuing acceptance of cultural diversity.
Since the initial survey in 2007, the Social Cohesion survey has enabled the tracking of public opinion on immigration, social cohesion, and population issues. This period has seen a sustained population growth and continually developing ethnic diversity within Australia. The survey utilizes a consistent and comprehensive questionnaire in seeking to analyse how these changes have altered national attitudes towards issues of social cohesion. By generating nuanced responses, the survey provides an evidence-based platform for an ongoing discussion regarding issues of social cohesion and immigration.
The 2018 Survey
The Scanlon Foundation conducted the survey throughout July-August 2018. The survey is comprised of 77 questions regarding immigration, multiculturalism, discrimination, and political trust and population issues. The comprehensive questionnaire enables a balanced and nuanced understanding of public opinion. The 2018 survey was completed by 1,500 interviewed administered respondents, with an additional 2,260 respondents completing the Life in Australia panel version of the survey.
The 2018 survey broadly indicates that Australia remains a socially cohesive society that supports its multicultural character, and retains a majority support for immigration. The survey asks respondents in an open-ended format to indicate the ‘most important problem facing Australia today’, and in 2018 only 7% of respondents indicated that immigration is the most pressing issue. It is worth noting however that in 2015 this number was only 3%.
Australians continue to support the notion that Australia is an ‘immigrant nation’, with only a small minority (14%) rejecting the statement that ‘immigrants improve Australia society by bringing new ideas and cultures’. Over 80% of respondents in 2018 agreed that immigration is good for both the economy and bringing new ideas and cultures into Australia.
Since 2013 the survey has gauged the degree to which respondents agree that ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’, with agreeable responses sitting consistently between 83-86% over this period. In 2018 these results remained steady at 85% agreement. In keeping with the previous results of the Scanlon Foundation survey, the 2018 results indicate that the majority of respondents are aware that multiculturalism is a two-way process, requiring adaptation and adjustment by Australians and immigrants.
Immigration and the Media
Throughout 2018 immigration policy was the subject of substantial discourse in politics and the media. Prominent politicians called for cuts to Australia’s overall immigration intake, and fringe parties continued to propose radical action on the current intake. There were also a range of polls reporting majority negative sentiment in regards to the issue, with various polls reporting between 54-72% of responses favouring a cut in immigration numbers. The 2018 Social Cohesion report highlights the role of methodological error in some of these polls that were subsequently adopted by the mainstream media. Other polls have concluded minority negative sentiment. An October 2018 Fairfax-Ipsos poll reported a minority response, finding 45% negative sentiment in regards to Australia’s immigration intake. This result was replicated within the 2018 Social Cohesion survey, with a minority 43% of responders of the view that immigration numbers are excessive. The additional Life in Australia survey conducted for the Scanlon Foundation similarly returned a minority 44% negative sentiment.
The 2018 survey was consistent with the results of the previous reports in indicating that attitudes towards immigration and diversity have majority support. In 2017 63% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the proposition that ‘accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger’, and in 2018 this figure increased to 67%.
The 2018 survey was consistent with other polls in recording an increase in the proportion of the sample concerned at the level of immigration, finding a 9% increase between 2016-18, however the Scanlon survey differs in its finding that support for a reduction in immigration numbers still remains a minority view.
There was a 6% increase in the number of respondents who stated that the number of immigrants accepted into Australia was ‘too high’ between the 2017 and 2018 surveys. The report states that this is not attributable to unemployment as it has been historically, but rather to ongoing political discourse, the role of Federal elections, and general political instability.
The intense politicisation has led to the increase of inflammatory statements and dialogue relating to the discrimination of immigrants based upon ethnicity or religion. The results of the Scanlon Foundation survey continue to show a majority opposition to this type of immigration discrimination, with 2018 showing a low of 15% of respondents who strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that ‘when a family or individual applies to migrate to Australia, that it should be possible for them to be rejected simply on the basis of their race or ethnicity?’
Discriminatory immigration policy fails to gain support from more than 30% of respondents, but the level of negative sentiment towards those from Muslim countries and of the Muslim faith is a factor of current significance in Australian society. It is notable that the 2018 results indicated a slight dip in the percentage of respondents who responded negatively to the statement ‘Is your personal attitude positive, negative or neutral towards Muslims?’ (23%).
Some of the results above demonstrate the increasing volatility and negative effects of the political discourse as relating to immigration in Australia, however the extreme views espoused by fringe parties such as One Nation remain a small minority.