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Australia’s social cohesion survives COVID – Scanlon report

2 December 20210 comments

Australians’ support for multiculturalism, government and their fellow Aussies has survived the COVID pandemic with the nation’s social cohesion in “solid” shape, according to a major new research report.

Optimism and economic satisfaction have also remained high, according to the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute’s 2021 Mapping Social Cohesion Report.

Compiled by a team led by Monash University’s Emeritus Professor Andrew, the report uses a survey of more than 110 questions to gauge an understanding of shifts in public opinion on social cohesion and population issues.

Professor Markus said that the survey had found evidence of a strong, cohesive and resilient society, but although with some signs of concern.

“The key to the positive findings appears to be the high – although declining – level of support for government, the high level of trust in fellow citizens, the level of economic satisfaction, and optimism for the future,” he said.

The survey found that Australia continues to be cohesive and we trust each other. Fifty-two per cent of people agreed that ‘most people can be trusted’ – up from 44 per cent last year. Australia is one of only five countries that can boast such a high figure.

The statement ‘Immigrants are generally good for Australia’s economy’ was endorsed by 86 per cent, up from 76 per cent in 2019.

In a surprisingly big shift, when asked ‘how big a problem is racism in Australia?’, 60 per cent of survey respondents indicated it was a ‘very big’ or ‘fairly big problem’ – a 20 percentage point rise from the previous year’s 40 per cent.

That rise is almost unprecedented for this type of question in the Scanlon Foundation surveys.

Professor Markus said the timing of this substantial shift was difficult to explain, given it was first evident in the 2021 survey, not in 2020.

“If there is a perception that an increased number of Australians are now acting in a racist manner, it is not based on a shift detected by the Scanlon Foundation surveys, which establish that there has been no increase in the proportion of respondents adopting xenophobic and racist views,” he said.

Tracking of strong negative responses suggests proponents of racist and xenophobic views are a shrinking segment of the population. In 2021, just three per cent ‘strongly disagreed’ with the view that ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’, compared to seven per cent in 2019; 10 per cent in 2021 indicated a ‘very negative’ view of Muslims, compared to 17 per cent in 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a large impact on Australian attitudes to social cohesion and their communities at large, the survey found.

In July 2020, 63 per cent of respondents indicated the pandemic was the “most important problem facing Australia today”, leading the economy at 15 per cent. By November, concern had fallen to 32%, but was back up to 59 per cent in the 2021 survey as outbreaks took hold.

“This is an unprecedented level of concern obtained in response to an open-ended question that typically obtains a broad range of responses,” Prof Markus said.

Trust in government remains well above the long-term average, the result of priority accorded to effective control of the pandemic. In the states which have had the shortest lockdowns, Western Australia and South Australia, the government’s approval rating remains close to 90 per cent. In contrast, in NSW approval fell to 59 per cent and the federal government’s approval fell to 52 per cent — although still a majority.

While there have been vocal protests against restrictions, approval of lockdowns was at 87 per cent.

Despite the level of economic dislocation during the pandemic, answers to financial questions were more positive when compared to previous years.

Asked, ‘how satisfied are you with your present financial situation,’ 71 per cent ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ in 2021 up from 64 per cent in 2019.

In regard to financial circumstances in 2021, 69 per cent of respondents indicated that they were ‘living reasonably comfortably,’ ‘very comfortably,’ or were ‘prosperous,’ compared with a lower 61 per cent in 2019.

Asked, ‘Australia is a land of economic opportunity where in the long run, hard work brings a better life,’ 72 per cent agreed in 2021, 71 per cent in 2019.

When asked ‘are you optimistic or pessimistic about Australia’s future?’, 63 per cent indicated that they were optimistic in 2019, a higher 70 per cent in July 2020 and 71 per cent in 2021.

Agreement that ‘people in your local area are willing to help their neighbours’ was at 81 per cent in 2019 and at a higher 86 per cent in both July 2020 and 2021.

A negative outlook is the minority position, comprising 15 per cent – 30 per cent of the population, depending on the question asked. For example, 29 per cent were ‘pessimistic’ or ‘very pessimistic’. This was, however, a lower proportion than in 2019, when 36 per cent indicated pessimism.

See the full report here: