February 23, 2006 | Graham

Tell us what you really think

Four days ago I was critical of a Saulwick poll which had been interpreted by the SMH to suggest that we’ve become a meaner society under John Howard. Today there are two reports of polls which put a different light on this interpretation.
The first is also reported in the SMH under the headline “Open views thrive despite PM’s stance: study”. This is a marginal improvement on their earlier portrayal of Howard as the omnipotent corrupter of the national character, although it still suggests that he is opposed to an “open” society. I was going to add “whatever ‘open’ means”, but the article, based on a paper by Gabrielle Meagher and Shaun Wilson presented to a seminar today, defines it for us.
“Australians have become more approving of working mothers, same-sex couples with children, immigration and government expenditure on public services, and are strongly against the privatisation of Telstra, electricity and Australia Post.” Not quite how I would have defined “open”, so I’m glad I asked. Wouldn’t have picked opposition to privatisation as a sign of “openness”
Opposed to this Howard “stands for traditional family values, Christian morals, the monarchy, and “a blokesy version” of nationalism. [He]has banned same-sex marriages, tailored welfare to deliver most benefits to traditional families, and reinvigorated the role of churches in social policy.”
Why do Australians put up with this puritanical fellow? It’s the economy stupid! “The Government remains popular because of the strength of the economy and the weakness of the Opposition, the authors say.”
In fact there’s nothing new here. Our 2001 On Line Focus research summed up that year’s federal election more or less like this. Australians liked Kim Beazley and they liked what he stood for and promised, but were concerned that he wouldn’t deliver. They didn’t like John Howard, nor what he stood for and promised, but they did believe that he would deliver. Faced with a choice between uncertain pleasure and certain pain, they chose certainty.
Nice to be confirmed by a paper at an academic conference some five or so years later. The paper also tends to confirm that John Howard isn’t making us anything, even if he is trying to, certainly not meaner and nastier, and if anything, as a society our attitudes are travelling in a more tolerant direction. Vale Saulwick.
The second poll is the Anholt National Brands survey. It polls roughly 25,000 people worldwide and its third quarter 2005 poll ranked Australia as the friendliest country in the world. This latest quarter we’ve been overtaken, but only by the Canadians. Now if we’ve got meaner and nastier over the last decade, it’s been from an extremely high base. The survey does have some methodological issues, but it is a pointer that maybe we’ve conned ourselves into thinking that things are more miserable than they really are. John Howard’s Australia just might be a golden age, pity so many of us are grumbling our way through it.

Posted by Graham at 10:32 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

1 Comment

  1. “Open” as they define it is “left wing”. Which is pretty much what you were hinting at. So under a right wing government we have become less left wing, what a way to spend research monies. ‘Open’ is an objective term which shouldn’t be used as a metaphor dealing with politics as it becomes confusing and dodgy, especially when mixed with polls.
    I think the difference between me and the Socialist Alternative is that I am a far left conservative, whereas they are far left radicals.
    The student society that most suits me would be the Political Interest Society, full of wankers who have their own blogs and discuss politics. Politically I should found a conservative faction in the Greens.

    Comment by Benno — February 24, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

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