Essential Research, commissioned by the Sydney Policy Lab and Paul Ramsay Foundation, have developed a pilot Australian Civic Engagement Index. Top-line findings indicate that the ability to form new relationships with people outside one’s existing network of family and friends is one of the strongest indicators of an engaged citizen.
As countries around the world try to rebuild from the pandemic, success will depend as much on the contribution of the broader public as it will on the efforts of political or industry leaders.
For years now, political scientists have known that the stronger the commitment of everyday people to their own societies the more likely those societies are to be prosperous, fair and strong. The more people volunteer for charities and other groups, the more they are able to trust their politicians, the more they look out for their neighbours and communities, the better the country as a whole will be.
But how does Australia fare on these issues? How engaged are the Australian public? Who do they trust? And who do they look out for?
In order to understand the level of civic engagement and behaviours and attitudes that might drive this sense of connection, the Sydney Policy Lab and Paul Ramsay Foundation commissioned Essential Research to develop a pilot Australian Civic Engagement Index.
The inaugural index consists of a national survey conducted online from 28th July to 1st August 2021, made up of 16 questions and including 1,098 participants The survey formed part of the Essential Report omnibus poll.
- Younger people who grew up in a home where English is not the primary language spoken in the home emerged as the most engaged citizens.
- Older, poorer, rural people rate significantly lower when it comes to civic engagement.
- People with children rate significantly higher on civic engagement than people without children, suggesting family draws people into civic spaces.
- The ability to form new relationships with people outside one’s existing network of family and friends is one of the strongest indicators of an engaged citizen.
Using a weighted scoring and comparing across the average all Australians across different demographics:
The three most engaged cohorts were:
- People who identified that they use a language other than English at home or with close family members
- People aged 25-34
- Highest level of education: University Degree
The three least engaged cohorts were:
- Highest level of education: Secondary School
- People aged 75 and over
- Federal voting intention: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation
Highlights in terms of connection, participation and trust:
Self-assessment of connection level:
|Very connected||Fairly connected||Not that connected||Not connected at all|
|How would you rate your level of connection with your community?||12%||50%||32%||7%|
What does connection look like?
|To what extent do each of the following statements sound like, or not like you?||A lot like me||Somewhat like me||Not really like me||Not like me at all|
|I actively look to connect with new people outside my immediate family and friendship group||14%||35%||34%||16%|
|I enjoy meeting and talking with new people in online groups and social network platforms||13%||30%||34%||23%|
|The views of people like me are listened to by those making decisions about how the country is governed||11%||38%||35%||16%|
|The issues that I care about are reflected in the media (e.g. TV, radio, newspapers)||15%||51%||26%||9%|
Engagement with broader community:
|How would you describe your level of engagement with each of the following types of groups or organisations?||I have no involvement with this type of group or organisation||I follow what they’re doing and engage occasionally||I am a member (i.e. have paid membership fees or donate money and/or engage regularly)||I volunteer my time to support them|
|A political party||70%||22%||5%||3%|
|Trade union, industry group or activist organisation||74%||16%||7%||3%|
|A faith-based community or church||67%||18%||10%||5%|
|Sporting clubs or organisations||56%||22%||16%||6%|
|Charitable or not-for-profit organisations||46%||30%||14%||10%|
|Cultural institutions (e.g. libraries, museums or galleries)||54%||30%||13%||3%|
|School parent and citizens or other education support group||70%||18%||8%||4%|
Who people trust in times of need:
|During times of difficulty, to what extent would you trust the following people or organisations to provide assistance or support to those in need?||Have a lot of trust||Have some trust||Have little trust||Have no trust at all|
|Your local elected representatives in politics (e.g. local MPs or councillors)||10%||46%||31%||13%|
|Government service organisations (e.g. health or community housing)||19%||51%||23%||8%|
|Large charities (e.g. Red Cross, Foodbank, The Smith Family)||31%||47%||16%||6%|
|Local community organisations (e.g. youth centre, sports club, or local church)||23%||54%||18%||5%|
|Neighbours (e.g. including ‘mutual aid’ support groups)||21%||53%||20%||6%|
If conducted annually, the 2021 index has the potential to operate as a baseline to measure changes in Australians’ levels of trust, participation and connection with the community and each other. Please refer to Essential Media for more information about the index, including index data and factors such as weighting efficiency, effective sample size and margin of error. Essential Media’s report can be downloaded here.