Australians are overwhelmingly positive about globalisation and free trade, are showing signs of renewed support for the US alliance, and see China as an economic partner, not a military threat, according to the Lowy Institute annual poll released this week.
Most Australians (78%) believe globalisation, especially the increasing connections of our economy, is mostly good for Australia. This is largely unchanged from when the question was last asked in 2009, and higher (by 14%) than in 2006.
Despite anti-trade rhetoric across the West, most Australians are still positive about free trade. Australians believe free trade improves their standard of living (67%), the Australian economy (67%), Australian companies (61%) and job creation (55%).
Our attitudes to Donald Trump have also softened. In 2016, a small majority (51%) said that Australia should remain close to the United States under a theoretical President Donald Trump. In 2017, now that Trump is actually president, this has increased to nearly two-thirds (65%). Meanwhile, support for Australia’s alliance has actually increased under Trump. In 2016, 71% of Australians thought Australia’s security links with the US was very or fairly important; in 2017, 77% believe our alliance with the US is important.
Australia’s historic bonds of Britain also remain strong. On which global power Australians trust the most to ‘act responsibility in the world’, we express the greatest faith in the United Kingdom (90%). In our own region, most (79%) see China as more of an economic partner then military threat.
The news isn’t all good – most (79%) of Australians are dissatisfied with the direction of the world, and nearly half (48%) are dissatisfied with the way Australia is going. Meanwhile, almost all Australians see international terrorism (94%) and North Korea’s nuclear program (92%) as a critical and important threat. People are nevertheless optimistic about Australia’s economy (74%).
Australians’ views towards democracy also remain a concern. While a majority (60%) view democracy is preferable to any other form of government, there remains solid minorities who believe non-democratic government can be preferable (20%) or don’t care what form of government we have (16%). As confirmed by the IPA’s Growing Freedom survey, young Australians, aged between 18-29, express a lower support for democracy (52%).
Overall, there’s a lot to be happy about in Lowy’s latest survey. Our historic bonds and alliances have widespread support, and Australians understand the benefits of globalisation and free trade. Nevertheless, there is evidence of some pessimism and continued uncertainty about democracy.