Voter trust in government at an all-time low

Voter trust in government at an all-time low
Voter trust in government at an all-time low Source: AAP

SBS World News Radio: Researchers say record lows in voter trust in the government and faith in democracy should be a wake-up call for all Australian politicians.  

A review of this year's federal election shows a similar voter reaction in Australia to the United States during its recent election campaign and during the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.

The Australian National University has conducted a study of each federal election in Australia since 1987 but its most recent research is ringing political alarm bells.

It's found 40 per cent of voters are not satisfied with democracy in Australia - the highest level of voter dissatisfaction since the 1975 dismissal of Gough Whitlam by the Governor General.

That dissatisfaction is particularly prevalent among Australians aged in their thirties but also among those from low socio-economic areas.

Lead researcher on the ANU election study, Professor Ian McAllister, says politicians need to learn to better connect with voters.

"Political parties in Australia are not really connecting well with younger people and that's part of the problem. They're not using social media, they're not developing memberships among younger people, and so on."

Nearly 3,000 people were interviewed for the study in the three months following this year's poll on July 2nd.

The ANU's Dr Jill Sheppard says the major parties are mostly to blame for the lack of voter enthusiasm.

"The major parties are really culpable in a lot of this stuff. They haven't been quick to engage with voters. They've rested on their compulsory voting laurels (been complacent) and chickens are coming home to roost (they're bearing the consequences)."

Trust in the government has declined from 43 per cent in 2007 to 26 per cent in 2016.

It is the lowest level since the ANU began recording such results in 1969.

Professor McAllister believes the voter reaction is similar to what happened during the United States election and the Brexit vote in the UK.

"It's not a crisis of democracy but what you're seeing is the start of something which has happened overseas, it's coming here and I would have thought this is a wake-up call for the political class that they really need to start addressing this, otherwise it's going to continue. Trump largely got elected because of poor economic performance and that was impacting very much on the middle class. We see very similar factors here operating and that's obviously undermining support and trust in the major political parties and politicians."

The study also shows many voters do not differentiate between the two major parties and their policies.

Dr Sheppard says voters in Australia like clear signals.

"They like parties to be clear about what they're standing for and if voters can't pick between those two parties or that they say there's no difference, that's part of that trust in what a party stands for - and that we trust that they're going to deliver on some broad agenda."

Until recently, the ANU's election surveys have shown Australian political leaders have been elected with a good degree of popularity and support.

But Kevin Rudd's 2007 election win was the last time a newly-elected Australian Prime Minister enjoyed a high level of popularity.

Since then Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have all managed to secure the parliament without it.

As for what voters think of the current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull is viewed as intelligent and knowledgeable but not honest or trustworthy.

Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, has more negative evaluations than any major party leader since the ANU began recording such data in 1993.

He is perceived as slightly more compassionate than Malcolm Turnbull but not as intelligent.

Professor McAllister says compulsory voting is really saving today's leaders from a much more realistic picture of voter discontent.

"And what we find in our surveys when we ask a question about would you still vote if it was a voluntary voting system, we find there's a very substantial drop among younger people. So they're simply not engaging in these traditional forms of politics, they don't find it very interesting. And I'm sure that's driving a lot of this."