World News

Australia’s Anxiety About World Affairs

Posted June 19, 2018 9:46 p.m. EDT

How do Australians feel about President Donald Trump and the state of the world?

Not good, on both counts, according to the Lowy Institute’s annual poll of Australians, which was released Wednesday. The poll shows they are also not pleased with Chinese investment, immigration rates to Australia, or their country’s response to climate change.

Here are a few key findings that provide a summary of the country’s mood and political direction on global issues.

— Dear Mr. Trump: We’re Worried About You

A slight majority of Australians (55 percent) say they trust the United States to “act responsibly in the world” — a 6-point drop since 2017 and a 28-point collapse since 2011.

The responses, from one of America’s closest allies, represent the lowest level of trust in the United States recorded in 12 years of Lowy Institute polling.

Australians still value their country’s alliance with the United States — three out of four said the alliance was either “very” or “fairly” important for Australia’s security.

It’s the president that concerns them: 42 percent consider the presidency of Donald Trump a critical threat to Australia’s interests.

— Jitters About Chinese Interference — in Real Estate, not Politics

Australians are more concerned about China’s influence on their economy than their politics.

Even though Australian politicians have been especially focused on Chinese interference in politics over the past year, only 41 percent of Australians see “foreign interference in Australian politics” as a critical threat.

And while 63 percent expressed concern about China’s influence in Australian politics, almost as many (58 percent) said they were concerned about the influence of the United States.

“This debate has not really resonated with Australia,” said Alex Oliver, the poll’s author. “It’s not high on their list of concerns.”

A bigger priority for Australians is the flood of Chinese cash. Almost three-quarters of Australian adults (72 percent, up from 56 percent in 2014) said the Australian government was “allowing too much investment from China,” especially in real estate and agriculture.

— An Immigrant Overflow

Australians have typically viewed immigration as a net positive, but that is changing.

For the first time, the Lowy Institute poll found that a majority of Australians (54 percent) think the current rate of immigration to Australia is too high. That is up 14 points since last year, and 17 points since the poll started asking the question in 2014.

Australians also appear to be questioning immigration’s effect on national identity. A majority (54 percent) still say “Australia’s openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation,” but a significant minority (41 percent) now say that “if Australia is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”

Younger Australians tend to prefer openness when compared with those over 45, but overall, Australians are even more concerned about the perceived threat from immigration than Americans, who responded to the same question last year with only 29 percent agreeing that if the United States were too open to people from all over the world, “we risk losing our identity as a nation.”

— It’s Getting Hotter

Climate change is back on the Australian agenda: 59 percent of Australians said “global warming is a serious and pressing problem” about which “we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.”

That figure has been rising steadily since 2012, when it was 36 percent, but is still below the peak of 68 percent in 2006.

Almost all Australians (84 percent) also said “the government should focus on renewables, even if this means we may need to invest more in infrastructure to make the system more reliable.”

Only 14 percent said the government should promote traditional energy sources like coal and gas despite the environmental costs.

— Democracy: Old People Love It

In past polls, Australians ages 18-29 expressed far less support for democracy than their elders, with a slight majority (52 percent) saying last year that they preferred it as a form of government.

This year, that number dropped to 49 percent, and it is even lower among Australians ages 30-44 (45 percent). By contrast, 76 percent of those 45 and older favor democracy, which raises an interesting question: If Australia did not have compulsory voting, who would actually participate?