14 March 2024

Three-quarters of Australians don't know when they're being lied to in elections, survey finds

| Chris Johnson
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Election sausage dog

Moves are underway to take tougher action against false and misleading election advertising. Photo: AEC.

About half of the Australian adult population believe corruption is widespread in the nation’s democratic institutions, and almost two-thirds think most people don’t understand when they’re being lied to during election campaigns.

Those are just two of the concerns raised in the Trust and Satisfaction in Australian Democracy Survey Report, just released by the Federal Government.

While a slim majority of the survey respondents agreed that Australia’s democracy is on the right track, the report highlighted significant concerns about the level of trust in democratic processes.

The report is released as the government moves forward with plans to create a new unit inside the Australian Electoral Commission to address truthfulness in election advertising.

The AEC, which has previously stated it is all but powerless to prevent lies in political advertising, would be given a strengthened role in ruling on questionable claims and statements in election advertisements.

Under the proposed changes, those ads found to be outright lies would be breaking the law.

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The new trust survey, conducted by the Australian Public Service Commission last year, helps paint a clear picture of perceptions of democracy in this country.

Australia signed the Luxembourg Declaration on Building Trust and Reinforcing Democracy in November 2022 and the APSC then launched a representative survey across the nation.

“Our findings paint a nuanced picture of democracy in Australia. Most Australians highly value and are satisfied with their democratic system,” the report states.

“The vast majority say living in a democratic country is important to them, and three in five people indicate they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the country.

“Yet, this appreciation is coupled with concerns. Nearly half of Australians aren’t confident the country is on the right democratic path and perceive widespread corruption in democratic institutions and processes.

“Despite these pressures, there is a resilient desire to strengthen our democracy – four in five Australians believe it is worth trying to fix the problems our democracy may have.

“The vast majority of Australians hold the fundamental values of democracy in high regard, and the majority also think the country does well in keeping elections fair, protecting human rights and ensuring freedom of speech.”

While the report suggests the level of satisfaction is relatively high, it acknowledges that it could be improved.

In particular, the survey found that 53 per cent of the respondents agreed that Australia’s democracy is on the right track. While 15 per cent disagreed, a further 28 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed.

“Put another way, this indicates almost half of Australians aren’t sure democracy is progressing in the right direction,” the report states.

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It also found that 49 per cent of respondents believe corruption is a widespread issue in Australia’s democratic institutions and processes, while 72 per cent believe that most people “don’t understand when information in the media is misleading or fake during elections”.

But despite these concerns being identified, the survey reports a “promising outlook overall” with 80 per cent of respondents believing it is worth trying to fix the problems democracy may have.

“This strong majority represents a collective commitment to enhancing and preserving our democracy and affirms that Australians not only recognise the importance of a healthy democratic system but are also supportive of efforts to continually improve it,” it states.

In launching the report, Assistant Minister for the Public Service Patrick Gorman noted a high degree of variation in trust levels towards public institutions.

Australians who reported greater confidence in their civic knowledge are more likely to have high levels of satisfaction with how democracy is working.

“The expectations on our government and public sector to manage complexity are greater than ever, and what that requires is a strong and trusted democracy, with systems of governance in place which can confront the challenges of a changing world,” Mr Gorman said.

“Australians deserve to understand the impact of the policies their tax dollars pay for and the evidence which proves it. And they deserve elected officials who act with integrity, alongside a strong and capable public sector.”

The survey was conducted in June 2023 and was initially completed online by a sample of 5000 Australian adults, who were nationally representative based on quotas for age, gender, and location.

A follow-up wave of 1000 Australians was undertaken online in November with an additional module of questions focused on the recent Voice referendum.

According to the report, the survey was designed to provide a baseline assessment, with potential to use it as a monitoring tool at regular intervals in the future.

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Turns out journalists lie to us too. Can’t trust anybody these days.

There should be a fear that the government of the day will use this power to censor views put forward by opponents. If it is created there should be a supervisory board made up of members of all the parties contesting the election not just Labor, Liberal and National but also the minor parties such as Greens, One Nation and United Australia party. The supervisory board should determine what decisions are made public and if not requiring a unanimous vote from the board at least choose a very high percentage such as 90% agreement before interfering in the political debate.

Stephen Saunders6:15 pm 14 Mar 24

“3/4 don’t know when they’re being lied to in elections.” 3/4, here’s a clue: you’re being lied to nearly all the time.

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