2024 Purpose of Government Pulse

Overview

ON THIS PAGE

The inaugural 2024 Purpose of Government Pulse, conducted by the Centre for Policy Development through eight rounds of polling from 2015 to December 2023, explores Australian attitudes towards government, democracy, and public capability.

Key findings reveal a steadfast belief in fair and equal treatment among Australians as the key purpose of democracy, despite significant societal changes over the period surveyed. However, the public’s view on the government’s role is dynamic, with a recent increase in Australians prioritising “ensuring a decent standard of living” as its primary role, surpassing earlier leading responses associated with wellbeing and critical service delivery.

The research indicates a growing expectation that government decisions should prioritise citizen wellbeing, a sentiment that has risen from 70% in 2021 to 80% in 2023. There is also a strong preference for direct government involvement in public service delivery. Since 2015, surveys have consistently shown high support (never below 77% and peaking at 90% in 2022) for government capability in service provision over outsourcing to charities or the private sector. This reflects a desire for active and effective government presence in everyday life.

Foreword

By Andrew Hudson

The purpose of government and democracy has been at the heart of the Centre for Policy Development’s work since our inception.

Active, effective government brings people and public institutions closer together, strengthens social cohesion, creates opportunity, and builds capability within communities and across the nation.

Since 2015, the Centre for Policy Development (CPD) has been measuring public attitudes to key questions around the purpose of government and democracy in Australia, and the performance of Australian governments in fulfilling these purposes.

The Purpose of Government Pulse is the first time these results have been released and analysed together, complete with new data from December 2023.

The results show a nation that firmly views democracy as a vehicle for the fair and equal treatment of people, including the most vulnerable in our society. This national value has remained steadfast through a turbulent period in Australia that includes the COVID-19 pandemic, global conflicts and economic challenges.

The findings also show a consistent belief in the importance of governments maintaining capabilities to directly deliver social services like healthcare, education, employment support, disability services, and aged care. The question that CPD has asked respondents most often – eight times since 2015 – concerns the importance of governments maintaining the skills and capability for direct social services delivery, rather than relying on outsourcing. The results show a clear consensus around this question, with at least 77% of respondents saying that it is either important or very important every time.

Another striking result is the growing consensus around the need for the wellbeing of the population to guide government decision-making, above other concerns. In 2021, aggregate agreement with this proposition polled at 70%. By December last year it was 80%.

The period covering 2022 and 2023 also saw a sharp increase in support for the proposition that the main purpose of government is to ensure a decent standard of living, concurrent with higher cost of living pressures on household budgets. In February 2022 this response was in third place at 17%, well behind the leading responses (“deliver and fund social infrastructure and critical services” and “improve overall wellbeing”). By December 2023 it was in first place with one in three people choosing it above other options.

Of course, as with any society, there is a diversity of perspectives on questions of government’s purpose and performance. Some of the most interesting deviations can be seen between age groups. There is a degree of optimism among young people (18-34) in the results that defies the popular depiction of younger people as disengaged and cynical. They are more likely than the average adult to believe that our politics is capable of taking a long-term view, that our parliaments are effective in tackling major challenges, and that our elected officials are serving their interests.

With this young cohort growing as a proportion of the voting public, there is an opportunity for policymakers to meet these hopeful expectations and deliver on the promise of Australian democracy – a country where people are treated fairly and equally, including the most vulnerable in our society.

We have presented these findings both in document form and with an online data explorer that allows readers to explore, and filter the results as they choose. We hope these findings can enrich the work of readers and decision-makers as they have enriched ours at CPD.

Andrew Hudson is the CEO of the Centre for Policy Development

Key Findings

  • Concern over living standards has risen sharply, with “maintain a decent standard of living” now the most popular option for “purpose of government” 
  • Four in five people want the wellbeing of the population to guide our leaders’ decision-making, above other concerns 
  • Fair and equal treatment for all, including the most vulnerable in our society, is the unchallenged leading “purpose of democracy” over five consecutive surveys  
  • About four in five people consistently say government should deliver social services themselves rather than outsourcing them
  • People are widely concerned that politics is too short term, does not represent their interests, and that parliaments may be ineffective in dealing with major challenges 
  • Young people are more optimistic than average about the effectiveness of parliament, the ability of politics to take a long-term view, and the prospect of politicians serving their interests 
  • People rate state and federal governments as the most competent
  • People rate local and state/territory governments as reflecting community interests
  • People rate state/territory governments as providing direct benefits and delivering services 
  • Local governments are on the rise across the board with an increasing number of people rating them as competent, providing direct benefit, reflecting community needs, and delivering services over the past three years  
  • Local government is rated highest by Queenslanders, while Western Australians and South Australians tend to rate state governments more highly. Victorians tend to view the federal government most favourably 

Commentary

Building trust and understanding with data

It is essential for the government to recognise and accommodate varying expectations through tailored services and policies.

The Pulse in context

The long-term trend of declining trust in government, which mirrors a broader political polarisation and decay of trust in institutions more generally, is troubling for policymakers and leaders across the political spectrum.

The untapped potential of intergenerational collaboration

Young people are highly engaged with the elements of institutions that they trust, leaning towards opportunities for community-led local and state-based engagements.

Democratic and federal implications

Stitching together and sustaining political support across the divides revealed by the Pulse is a test of Australia's institutions

Wellbeing is not a matter of left politics or right politics, big government or small. According to most people, it’s the only way forward. 

People expect politicians and public officials to design economic systems that promote wellbeing, enable good lives and support opportunity

Summary

The report examines the views of Australians aged 18 years and older on questions related to the purpose and functions of government and democracy, and the roles that the different levels of government (federal, state/territory, and local) play.

It accompanies an online tool for readers to explore the data which can be accessed here – this forms a major part of the Purpose of Government Pulse project.

The data come from eight survey waves of Australian residents over 18, conducted between October 2015 to December 2023 by Essential Research. The methods are described in detail in Appendix A. 

Survey Results

This section provides a short overview of each question, displaying the question, highlights points of interest in overall responses and variations between cohorts. Cohort variance describes the difference between the responses of one demographic sub-group and the total survey average.

Please see Appendix B for a detailed analysis of the responses to each question.

Purpose of Government

What do you think is the primary purpose of government?

Overview

Views of the primary purpose of government have shifted with circumstances:

  • In October 2021 and February 2022 (end of COVID-19 restrictions), the leading responses were “deliver and fund social infrastructure and critical services” and “improve the overall wellbeing of the population” 
  • Since March 2023 (increased cost of living pressures) the leading responses has been “ensure a decent standard of living”, chosen by about one in three people

Cohort Variations

  • Young people (18-34) are more likely to say “create opportunities for future generations”, older people (55+) are more likely to say “deliver and fund critical services and social infrastructure”
  • People with university degrees are less likely to say “ensure a decent standard of living”, and those with a year 12 education or less are more likely to choose it

Wellbeing is not a matter of left politics or right politics, big government or small. According to most people, it’s the only way forward.

Purpose of Democracy

What do you think is the main purpose of democracy?

Overview

  • The response “ensuring all people are treated fairly and equally, including the most vulnerable” has led every survey and is chosen by around in three people

Cohort Variations

  • The leading response, “ensuring that all people are treated fairly and equally” has more support among people inclined to vote for Labor, women and people aged 55+

Wellbeing in government decisions

The wellbeing of the population should be the top consideration in government decision making, above other concerns

Overview

  • The majority want wellbeing to guide government decisions, above other considerations 
  • This has increased over time, with people more likely to agree (strongly or somewhat) now (80%) than in 2021 (70%)

Cohort Variations

  • There are fewer and smaller variations between cohorts on this question, indicating a broad consensus 
  • Those more likely to agree with the statement are people with a university degree, those aged 55 years and over, and people not inclined to vote for the ALP, Coalition or Greens

Public service delivery capability

In the long term, how important is it that the government maintain the capability and skills to deliver social services directly, rather than paying private companies and charities to deliver these?

Overview

  • Generally, 80-90 percent of respondents think public service delivery capability is somewhat or very important, with the most recent result being 83% in December 2023 
  • The highest results for people viewing public service delivery capability as important was 90% during June 2020, and the lowest was 77% in October 2018

Cohort Variations

  • Greater importance is given to public service delivery capability by people 55 years and older and people with a university degree
  • Younger people (18-34) were less likely than people 55 and over to nominate it as important
  • Deviations from average responses were most pronounced in 2018
  • People inclined to vote Labor were consistently more likely to choose important or very important, while people inclined to vote for the Coalition were in line with survey averages

The Pulse in context

Service delivery (levels of government)

This level of government is most responsible for delivering services to the community

Overview

  • State or territory government is consistently most associated with being responsible for delivery of services
  • The share of the response for local government has risen from 26% in October 2021 to 33% in December 2024
  • More people associate local government with service delivery than federal government

Cohort Variations

  • There is little cohort variation overall 
  • State or territory government is more common among older people and those inclined to vote for Coalition 
  • Local government is more common response among those not voting for ALP, Coalition or the Greens

Direct benefit (levels of government)

This level of government directly benefits me the most

Overview

  • State or territory government is chosen by 40-47% of respondents 
  • Since 2021 the share of responses for state or territory government has fallen from 47% to 41%, and the share of responses for local government has risen from 22% to 29% 
  • Federal government is chosen by more people in this question than for the service delivery question

Cohort Variations

  • Young people (18-34) were less likely to nominate federal government and older people (55+) were more likely to do so 
  • Men were more likely to nominate federal government (39% in December 2023) and women were more likely to nominate local government (35% in December 2023) 
  • People in Western and South Australia were more likely to nominate state or territory government 
  • People in Queensland were more likely to choose local government while Victorians were less likely to do so

Building trust and understanding with data

Competence (levels of government)

This level of government is the most competent

Overview

  • The percentage of respondents choosing the leading option, state or territory government, has dropped from 46% in October 2021 to 39% in December 2023 
  • Between 36% and 40% of people have chosen federal government since 2021 
  • Local government has consistently run third but its share of responses has increased from 17% in October 2021 to 25% in December 2023

Cohort Variations

  • Queenslanders rated local government more highly in both 2023 surveys
  • Older people have viewed federal government more favourably than younger people on this question 
  • People on higher incomes were somewhat more likely to choose state or territory government than those on lower incomes

Democratic and federal implications

Community needs & interests (levels of government)

This level of government best reflects the interests and needs of the community

Overview

  • State or territory government and local council are more likely to be viewed as reflecting community needs and interests than federal government
  • Local government (41%) was a more common response than state or territory government (39%) for the first time on this question in December 2023 
  • Less than one in five people (19%) chose federal government in the most recent poll

Cohort Variations

  • Queenslanders viewed local government more favourably on this measure
  • People in South Australia and Western Australia were more likely to nominate state or territory government

Politics too short-term

Our politics is more concerned with short-term gains than addressing long-term challenges affecting us, for example in ten years’ time

Overview

  • A clear majority in all survey waves agreed that politics focuses on the short term
  • After the response “neither agree nor disagree” was introduced to replace “don’t know” prior to the March 2023 survey, its share of responses rose to 26% from 14% in October 2018  
  • Overall agreement that politics is too short-term was 63% in both 2023 surveys, down from 75% in October 2018 
  • The strength of sentiment also moderated, with “strongly agree” shrinking from 40% in 2018 to 25% in 2023
  • Overall disagreement with the sentiment that politics is too short-term has remained steady at 10-11% over all survey waves

Cohort Variations

  • The groups most likely to think politics is too short term include men, older people, and those not voting for the ALP, Coalition or the Greens
  • People are sharply divided by age on this question, with young people less likely to agree with the view, but the gap has narrowed over time

Citizen involvement

Ordinary citizens should have a greater say in setting the policy priorities of government

Overview

  • A clear majority believe ordinary citizens should have a greater say in setting policy priorities 
  • The number who choose “neither agree nor disagree” has risen since it was introduced to replace “don’t know” 
  • The proportion of people who strongly agree has remained relatively consistent at around 20% 
  • The proportion who disagree, and believe ordinary citizens should not be more involved, has declined slightly from 13% in 2017 to 10% in December 2023

Cohort Variations

  • There is broad consensus across most groups on this issue with few demographic variations 
  • Older people and non-major party voters were more likely to agree that citizens should be more involved 
  • People with 12 or fewer years of schooling were less likely to agree that citizens should be more involved

The untapped potential of intergenerational collaboration

Politicians don’t serve my interests

Our elected representatives do not seem to be serving my interests

Overview

  • The proportion of respondents who believe politicians don’t serve their interests has shrunk from 70% in 2018 to 52% in March 2023 – the first poll since “don’t know” was changed to “neither agree nor disagree”  
  • The proportion of respondents who disagree, saying politicians do seem to be serving their interests, has remained steady at 14-16% across all surveys

Cohort Variations

  • The sentiment that politicians do not seem to be serving me interests is strongest in non-major party voters 
  • In 2023 surveys, older people (55+) are moderately more likely to agree that politicians aren’t serving their interests 
  • Young people are less likely to think politicians do not seem to be serving their interests 
  • People are less likely to agree when their preferred party holds federal government

Parliament effectiveness tackling challenges

Our elected parliaments are generally effective at tackling major challenges for the country

Overview

  • Recently, around one in three people think parliaments are effective at tackling major challenges, one in three think they are not, and one in three do not hold either view 
  • Before March 2023, when “neither agree nor disagree” replaced “don’t know, more people expressed the view that parliaments are not effective at dealing with major challenges 
  • The pattern seen in other questions, in which “neither agree nor disagree” answers came from those who might previously have chosen to agree with the statement is reversed here. The change has resulted in fewer “disagree” responses for this question

Cohort Variations

  • People over 55, non-major party voters, those not in paid work, and people without dependent children are less likely to have faith in the effectiveness of parliaments
  • Young people are more likely to believe parliaments are effective in tackling challenges, as are people with university degrees and people with children

Appendices

How is the data collected?

The data gathered for this report is from a fortnightly online survey run by Essential Research. The sample of respondents is provided by the market research company Qualtrics using online panels.

The survey can be accessed by respondents from the Wednesday night of each week until the following Sunday. Participants are invited to participate and complete the survey online and small financial incentives are offered for participation.

The survey questions come from fortnightly discussions by the team at Essential Media Communications of issues that are topical and relevant for the Australian public. Some questions are repeated regularly (such as political preference and leadership approval), while others are unique to each week and reflect current media and social issues. CPD contracted Essential Media Communications to include the questions in our analysis in specific survey waves.

The survey has three parts: first, there are questions about the respondent’s eligibility to participate in the survey and to determine the weighting of responses; this is followed by the survey questions about different media and social issues; and finally there are some broader demographic questions.

Who is the target sample?

The target population is all Australian residents aged 18+.

The response rate varies each week, but usually delivers 1000+ responses. All of the surveys used in our analysis had response rates over 1000. See table below.

Survey waveNumber of responses
October 20152027 (two survey waves took place in the same month)
October 20171025
October 20181025
June 20201073
October 20211097
February 20221069
March 20231141
December 20231102

How are responses weighted?

Weighting is applied to the data using information sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The factors used in the weighting are age, gender, location (all from the latest ABS Census), previous vote (from the May 2022 Federal Election) and, starting with the late October 2023 poll, education (from the latest ABS Census).

Click here for more information about the sample weighting, effective sample size and margin of error for each poll from June 2021.

How have data collection methods changed over time?

The way in which demographic characteristics are recorded changed in 2020 for several categories, including income ranges, age ranges, geographical regions (relevant in particular for those not living in NSW, VIC, QLD, SA or WA), labour force participation status, education level, and whether a “don’t know” category was allowed for voting status. In our analysis, we only compare demographic categories that are consistent across all years or that could be made consistent once certain categories were combined. For example, we combined age 18-24 and age 25-34 in survey waves prior to 2020 to be age 18-34 and therefore consistent with later survey waves.

Following the May 2022 Federal Election, Essential Media Communications decided to stop weighting by the political party with which the respondent identifies, instead opting to weight based on vote at the last federal election. The questions about voting preferences were moved from the end of the survey to the beginning. More information on these changes can be found here.

Since the late October 2023 poll, education has been used to weight the responses.

Demographic categoryNotes
Political PartyThe question asks about voting intention, specifically which party the respondent is leaning towards voting for at the next federal election.
Participants not eligible to vote in federal elections (either for age, residency or other reason) are excluded from voting intention. Eligible participants are able to select ‘Unsure’ for voting intention. They are then asked a ’leaner’ question which also includes an ‘Unsure’ option. Participants answering ‘Unsure’ are NOT excluded from published results, or any subsequent questions.
EducationThis is the highest level of education attained by the respondent.
Dependent childrenOur use of the term “dependent children” reflects that the respondent has dependent children living at home. There are no constraints on the ages of these children.
Income

In 2015 income was not collected as a demographic category.

Since 2016 household income has been collected as a demographic category using the following question (or similar).

What is the total of all wages/salaries, government benefits, pensions, allowances, and other income that your household usually receives (GROSS – before tax and superannuation deductions)?

We have aggregated income bands based on the following household income thresholds.

  • Lower income: < $51,999 
  • Middle income: $52,000-103,999
  • Higher income: >$104,000 

The most recent ABS measure. for median household income is $92,872 (from 2019-2020).

When were the questions asked?

Full text of questionOct-2015Oct-2017Oct-2018Jun-2020Oct-2021Feb-2022Mar-2023Dec-2023
What do you think is the primary purpose of government?    YYYY
What do you think is the main purpose of democracy? YY Y YY
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The wellbeing of the population should be the top consideration in government decision making, above other concerns    Y YY
In the long term, how important is it that the government maintains the capability and skills to deliver social services directly?YYYYYYYY
Which level of government do you most associate with the following statement? This level of government is most responsible for delivering services to the community    YYYY
Which level of government do you most associate with the following statement? This level of government directly benefits me the most    YYYY
Which level of government do you most associate with the following statement? This level of government is the most competent    YYYY
Which level of government do you most associate with the following statement? This level of government best reflects the interests and needs of the community    YYYY
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Our politics is more concerned with short-term gains than addressing long-term challenges affecting us. YY   YY
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Ordinary citizens should have a greater say in setting the policy priorities of government YY   YY
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Our elected representatives do not seem to be serving my interests YY   YY
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Our elected parliaments are generally effective at tackling major challenges for the country YY   YY

How have these questions changed over time?

For some of the questions, there was a change in the category indicating the respondent is undecided. Up until the October 2018 survey wave, this category was called “don’t know”. Subsequently, the category changed to “neither agree, nor disagree”. The following questions are affected by this change:

  • Ordinary citizens should have a greater say in setting the policy priorities of government
  • Our elected parliaments are generally effective at tackling major challenges for the country
  • Our elected representatives do not seem to be serving my interests
  • Our politics is more concerned with short-term gains than addressing long-term challenges affecting us

Up until the June 2020 survey for “In the long term, how important is it that the government maintains the capability and skills to deliver social services directly?”, the category was “don’t know”. Subsequently, it was “unsure”.

Definitions

+Xpp (e.g. +3pp)The selected demographic is X percentage points MORE likely to select that response than the average
-Xpp (e.g. -3pp)The selected demographic is X percentage points LESS likely to select that response than the average

What do you think is the primary purpose of government?

CPD asked Australians to nominate the primary purpose of government from the same range of responses in October 2021, February 2022, March 2023, and December 2023. 

The leading responses for the first two surveys were “improve the overall wellbeing of the population” and “deliver and fund critical services and social infrastructure”.

Support for these sentiments has tracked similar trends over time, rising from 27% and 28%, respectively, of survey respondents in October 2021 to 32% and 31% by February the following year. By December 2023 support for each of these responses had moderated to 25% and 24%, respectively.

In March 2023, “ensure a decent standard of living” was the leading response. It rose from 17% in October 2021 and 19% in February 2022 to 30% in March 2023 and 33% in December 2023. 

This coincides with increasing cost of living pressures related to rising prices across many consumer categories and rapid increases in the cash rate set by the Reserve Bank of Australia from a historic low of 0.1% at the time of the 2022 survey to 4.35% when the December 2023 measure was taken

Cohort variance

In recent survey waves, “ensure a decent standard of living” has appeared as the most popular response. For this response, there is generally not a large amount of variation across cohorts, when we compare the percentage of a cohort that chose the response with the total survey cohort for each year.

People aged 18 to 34 were marginally more likely to select this response in 2021 and 2022 than the average respondent (+3 to +4pp) while people aged 55 years and over showed less support for this statement (-5 to -6pp). Support for this response by survey participants over 55 rose dramatically – increasing by 19 points between February 2022 (13%, -6pp below average) and March 2023 (31%, +1pp above average). 

People in the 18 to 34-year-old age group demonstrated considerably less support for viewing “deliver and fund critical services and social infrastructure” as the primary purpose of government (-2 to -13pp), and more for “create opportunities for future generations” (+3 to +7pp).

People over 55 showed stronger support than the average respondent for “deliver and fund critical services and social infrastructure” (+5 to +13pp). 

People with up to year 12 education were more likely than the average to support “ensure a decent standard of living” across all survey waves (+2 to +7pp), while university-educated people were less likely (-1 to -10pp). One possible explanation for this could be differences in incomes (with education levels and incomes generally being positively related). However, this same variation is not reflected in the responses across income levels.

People currently working were less likely to select “deliver and fund critical services and social infrastructure” (-1 to -6pp) as the primary purpose than the average over time, while those not working were more likely to choose it (+1-8pp).

Compared to the average respondent, people with dependent children at home were less likely to support this option in all survey waves (-1 to -8pp), and more likely than average to support “create opportunities for future generations”(+2 to +5pp).

What do you think is the main purpose of democracy?

We asked people what they believe to be the primary purpose of democracy in five survey waves: October 2017, October 2018, October 2021, March 2023, and December 2023.

There is a clear leading response with between 31 and 36% of respondents saying the main purpose of democracy is “ensuring that all people are treated fairly and equally, including the most vulnerable in the community”. The difference between the number of respondents selecting this response versus any other response is at least 15 percentage points in each survey wave.

The proportion of people selecting “protecting people’s individual rights and liberties” and “ensuring the community is governed by fair laws” has increased slightly from 10% and 9%, respectively in 2017, to 14% and 13% respectively in December 2023.

Cohort variance

Support for the most popular response – that the purpose of democracy is “ensuring that all people are treated fairly and equally, including the most vulnerable in the community” – varies across cohorts. Across all survey waves, women were more likely than the average to support the most popular response (+2 to +5pp).

People over 55 had higher levels of support for the most popular response since 2018 (+2 to +6pp). In contrast, 18 to 34-year-olds were generally less likely than the average to support this response (reaching a maximum of -7pp in 2021).

Coalition voters were consistently less likely than the average to support “ensuring that all people are treated fairly and equally, including the most vulnerable in the community” (-2 to -6pp) and more likely to select “ensuring the community is governed by fair laws” (+1 to +5pp), while Labor voters were more likely than the average respondent to select the most popular response in all survey waves (+1 to +7pp).

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The wellbeing of the population should be the top consideration in government decision making, above other concerns.

People have been asked to nominate whether they believe wellbeing should be the main consideration in political decision-making three times since 2021: October 2021, March 2023, and December 2023. 

Over the survey waves, people have been much more likely to agree (either strongly or somewhat) than disagree (either strongly or somewhat) with this statement. Agreement with the statement has increased over time, from 70% in October 2021 to 75% in March 2023 and again to 80% in December 2023.

Cohort variance

There were several groups of people more likely to agree with the statement in all survey waves than the average respondent. 

  • People 55 and over (+5 to +7pp)
  • People with university education (+3 to +6pp)
  • Voters for parties other than the ALP, Coalition or the Greens (+1 to +10pp)
  • People not working (+1 to +4pp)

Less likely than the average respondent to agree with the statement in all survey waves were people aged 18-34 (-6 to -8pp) as well as higher income earners (-2 to -5pp).

Both Coalition and Labor voters tracked the average respondent quite closely in all survey waves. While “other” voters indicate that they were more likely than the average respondent to agree with the statement, this group is small so results need to be interpreted with caution.

In the long term, how important is it that government maintains the capability and skills to deliver social services directly, rather than paying private companies and charities to deliver these?

Respondents have been asked to rate the importance of government maintaining the capability and skills to directly deliver social services eight times since 2015. 

People are much more likely to view direct public service delivery capability as important (either very or somewhat) than not important (not very or not at all). The proportion of respondents finding the issue important has been consistently between 80-90%, with the exception of a small dip in 2018 (to 77%, with “very important” comprising 43%).

Respondents were most likely to view public service delivery capability as important during the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020, when the aggregate importance measured 90% and the “very important” response measured 58%. 

There has been a steep decline in the proportion of respondents opting to not have a strict view on this question. This category was renamed “unsure” in October 2021, and was previously “don’t know”, which hinders definitive interpretation. However the decline was most pronounced between the survey waves in 2018 and 2020 (dropping -9pp in that time), suggesting that factors like the Covid-19 pandemic may have had short- and long-term influence on responses to this question in addition to any effect survey design alternation. 

Cohort variance

Some groups viewed direct public service delivery capability as important in greater numbers than average in every survey wave. They were people older than 55 (+2 to +10pp), people with a university education (+1 to +7pp), and Labor voters (+2 to +7pp). 

Across most cohorts, deviations from the average were at their most pronounced in 2018 and are less frequent and smaller in and after 2020. 

People aged 18-34 years were less likely than the average respondent to view the issue as important in all survey waves (maximum divergence of -7pp in 2018). People aged 55 and over were more likely to view the issue as important compared to the average respondent (maximum divergence of +10pp in 2018).

A clear difference in perspectives also exists based on education levels. Those with up to a year 12 level of education were typically less likely to view direct public service delivery capability as important. People with university degrees were more likely to find direct public service delivery capability important, with a maximum deviation compared to the average respondent of +7pp in 2018. Trends for those with trade qualifications are less clear; they have tracked the average quite closely over time and particularly since 2020.

Labor voters have been more likely than the average to say direct public service delivery capability is important (and less likely to say it is not) in all survey waves. The responses of Coalition voters have generally been in line with the survey average over time.

Which level of government do you most associate with the following statement? This level of government is most responsible for delivering services to the community.

We have asked respondents to nominate the level of government that is most responsible for delivering community services four times since 2021: in October 2021, February 2022, March 2023, and December 2023.

The leading response is “state or territory government” with 44-50% of respondents nominating this response. Of the survey waves, the highest percentage of respondents selected this response in 2021, and the percentage of people selecting the response has declined since then. This may be associated with the large role of state and territory governments during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The share of the response captured by local government ranges has risen from 26% in October 2021 to 33% in December 2024 – part of a broader trend of rising shares of responses for all “levels of government” questions going to local government. 

The percentages of people selecting the other responses – “local council” and “federal government” –  were similar in 2021 and 2022, but diverged in 2023. 

In 2023, considerably more respondents selected “local council” (33% in both waves) than “federal government” (March: 22%, December: 21%).

Cohort variance

Most cohorts either track the average quite closely. Where cohort responses differ from the average, they do not exhibit clear trends. 

The most popular option – that the state or territory government level is most responsible for delivering services to the community – was consistently more likely to be chosen by people 55 and over (+2 to +3pp), and Coalition voters (+1 to +5pp).

Compared to the average survey respondent, women were less likely to select “federal government” as the most responsible in all survey years (-2 to -4pp). Conversely, men were more likely (+1 to +5pp).

People with education levels at year 12 or less became increasingly more likely to select the “state or territory government” option over time compared to the average respondent until March 2023. In 2021, they were -6pp less likely to select this option, but this increased to 5pp more likely in March 2023, until converging to +1pp in December 2023.  In contrast, those with a trade qualification became increasingly more likely to select “state or territory government”, from +4pp compared to the average respondent in 2021 to less likely in 2023 (-3pp).

Some interesting variations arise at the level of state of residence. South Australians have been somewhat less likely to select the “local council” option than the average respondent in all survey waves (-1 to -3pp). For some states and territories, there was a change in the way “federal government” is viewed in both 2023 survey waves, following the change in federal government after the 2022 survey. People in South Australia became more likely to select this option than the average respondent, while people in Victoria became less likely to choose it.

Coalition voters were more likely than the average respondent to choose “state or territory government”, while “other” voters were generally less likely to select this option over time (-5 to -12pp). Across all years, “other” voters were more likely to select “local council” (+2 to +14pp).

Which level of government do you most associate with the following statement? This level of government directly benefits me the most.

People have been asked to nominate the level of government that benefits them most four times since 2021: in October 2021, February 2022, March 2023, and December 2023.

The leading response is “state or territory government” with 40-47% of respondents nominating this response in each survey wave. It is plausible that this is related to the direct service delivery capability retained by state and territory governments across areas like transport, health, education and justice, and the number of touchpoints that citizens have with direct government service delivery by state and territory governments.

The highest percentage of respondents selected this response in 2021, and the percentage of people selecting the response has declined since then. This may be associated with the sudden prominence of state-delivered testing and vaccination facilities, alongside possible perceived collective and personal health benefits resulting from measures intended to prevent or slow coronavirus transmission.

Since 2021 the share of responses for state or territory government has fallen from 47% to 41%, and the share of responses for local government has risen from 22% to 29%.

More people selected “federal government” than “local council” in all survey waves. The margin in the first three surveys was at least 10pp, however the margin narrowed to only 2pp for the December 2023 survey.

Cohort variance

The most commonly selected option – that the state or territory government level directly benefits respondents most – was consistently more likely to be chosen by Western Australians (+4 to +13pp) and South Australians (+3 to +11pp). It was also more frequently chosen by people inclined to vote for Labor (+2 to +7pp) and the Greens (+2 to +7pp), as well as people aged 18-34 (+2 to +7pp), people with paid work (+2 to +5pp), people on higher incomes (+3 to +6pp), and people who have dependent children living at home (+1 to +6pp).

Men were more likely than the average respondent to find that the federal government benefits them most (+3 to +8pp), while women were consistently more likely to find that local councils are the most beneficial for them (+1 to +6pp).

There is also a clear difference between the levels of government found to benefit respondents most based on their age. People aged 18 to 34 were less likely than the average respondent to select “federal government” (-7 to -9pp) and more likely to select “state or territory government” (+2 to +7pp). People aged 55 and over, were more likely than the average to say they benefit most from the federal government (+6 to +10pp).

There are considerable variations based on where people live, with distinct trends in all states apart from NSW. Victorians were consistently less likely to choose “local council” (-3pp in all survey waves), while Queenslanders were consistently more likely to choose this option (+2 to +10pp). South Australians and Western Australians were consistently less likely to select the federal government (SA: -3 to -9pp, WA: -4 to -12pp) while Victorians were more likely to choose this option (+1 to +4pp). In all survey waves, Queenslanders were less likely to view their state as the option that benefits them most (-5 to -12pp).

Compared to the average respondent, people in paid work were somewhat less likely to select “federal government” in all survey waves (-2 to -3pp), while people not working were more likely to do so (+4 to +6pp). This situation is reversed for the “state or territory” option, with people currently working comparably more likely to view this level of government as providing them benefit (not working: -2 to -6pp, working: +2 to +5pp).

People on low incomes were more likely to select the “federal government” option in all survey waves (+3 to +7pp). People on higher incomes were more likely to view their state or territory government as benefiting them most (+3 to +6pp).

People not raising children were moderately but consistently more likely to view the federal government as the most personally beneficial (+1 to +4pp). People with children were less likely to select the “federal government” option in all survey waves (-2 to -7pp).

Which level of government do you most associate with the following statement? This level of government is the most competent.

This question was asked four times – in October 2021, February 2022, March 2023, and December 2023. The leading response has generally been “state or territory government”, capturing 46% of responses in 2021, 42% in 2022, and 39% in December 2023.

In March 2023, this option was slightly less favourable ( -1pp) than “federal government”: 40% of respondents selected “federal government” while 39% chose “state or territory government”.

The proportion of people selecting “federal government” has remained relatively steady, between 36% and 40%.

The number of people selecting “local government” has increased steadily from 17% in 2021 to 25% in December 2023.

Cohort variance

Younger people (18-34 years) were less likely to select “federal government” in all survey waves (-5 to -8pp). People 55 years and older were more likely than average to select “federal government” in all waves (+3 to +7pp), and less likely to view the state or territory government as most competent in all waves (-2 to -6pp).

There are consistent but moderate patterns that can be observed regarding income. Compared to the average respondent, people on lower incomes were less likely to select “state or territory government” in all years(-1pp to -5pp), with the difference largest in 2021 and December 2023 at -5pp. People on higher incomes were more likely to select the “state or territory government” option in all survey waves with a maximum difference of +4pp in December 2023.

Victorians have consistently been more likely to identify the federal government as most competent (being +4 to +7pp more likely to choose this option), while Western Australians have been less likely to select this option (-2 to -13pp). Queenslanders have been less likely to select the “state or territory” option (-2pp in 2021 to -10pp in December 2023), while Western Australians are consistently more likely to choose this option (+6 to +19pp). Local governments are regarded as competent by fewer Victorians (-3 to -4pp) and Western Australians (-3 to -7pp) but Queenslanders are more likely to choose this option than the average (+1 to +13pp).

Coalition voters were much more likely than average to view the federal government as most competent in 2021 (+16pp) and 2022 (+18pp), but less likely in 2023 (March: -7pp, December: -1pp) following a change of government. Labor and Greens voters were less likely than average to select the “federal government” option in 2021 and 2022 (Labor: -11pp, Greens: -12 to -13pp), but more likely to view this level as most competent in March and December of 2023 (Labor: +4 to +8pp, Greens: +1 to +2pp).

Labor voters were consistently less likely to choose the local council option (-1 to -10pp), in contrast to Greens (+1 to +13pp) and “other” voters (+9 to +13pp). Labor voters were consistently more likely to select the “state or territory” option than the average respondent (+2 to +12pp), while “other” voters were consistently less likely (-3 to -14pp).

Which level of government do you most associate with the following statement? This level of government best reflects the interests and needs of the community.

People have been asked to nominate the level of government that best reflects community needs and interests four times since 2021: in October 2021, February 2022, March 2023, and December 2023.

In 2021, the leading response, by a considerable margin, was “state or territory government”, with 43% of respondents compared to 33% who selected “local council” and 23% who selected “federal government”?. Since then, the difference between the proportion of people selecting “state or territory government” as opposed to “local council” has decreased sharply.

In the three most recent surveys, the maximum difference between the proportion of responses nominating each response has been 2pp (in 2023), and a higher proportion of respondents chose the “state or territory” option only in one of the three surveys. The proportion selecting “federal government” has fallen somewhat over time, from 23% in 2021 to 19% in December 2023.

Cohort variance

Queenslanders are considerably more likely than the average to select the “local council” option (with this increasing over time, from +5pp in 2021 to +14pp in December 2023), while Western Australians are less likely to choose this option (-1 to -18pp).

The view state or territory government best reflects the needs and interests of the community – was more likely to be chosen by people in South Australia (+2 to +9pp) or Western Australia (+4 to +24pp).

Victorians are more likely to select “federal government” (+2 to +8pp) while South Australians are less likely to select this option (-2 to -7pp).

There is little consistent variation based on age, working status, income levels, and whether respondents have dependent children living at home.

The 2022 change of federal government had an apparent effect on responses. In earlier surveys, Coalition voters were more likely to view the federal government as best reflecting needs and interests (+6 to +9pp), while both Labor and Greens voters were less likely to choose this option (Labor: -3 to -6pp, Greens: -2 to–10pp). In 2023 surveys Labor voters became more likely to prefer the federal government (+2 to +4pp) and Coalition voters responded in line with survey averages.

Our politics is more concerned with short-term gains than addressing long-term challenges affecting us, for example in ten years’ time.

This question has been asked four times: in October 2017, October 2018, March 2023, and December 2023.

People have been consistently more likely to agree (either strongly or somewhat) that politics is too short term. This ranged from a maximum of 75% in 2018 to 63% in both 2023 survey waves.

There was a change in survey design for 2021 and subsequent waves where the previous “don’t know” response changed to “neither agree nor disagree”. The apparent effect of this was fewer people choosing “agree” and more choosing “neither agree nor disagree”. “Disagree” responses appear unchanged.

Compared to the earlier survey years, the proportion of people selecting “strongly agree” decreased while the proportion selecting “agree” stayed about the same in both 2023 survey waves.

Cohort variance

Several cohorts were more likely to agree politics is too short-term across all years. They include men (+2 to +3pp), people 55 and older (+6 to +13pp), people with a university education (+2 to +5pp), people not voting Green or for one of the two major parties (+7 to +12pp), those not working (+1 to +4pp), and those with middle incomes (+1 to +3pp).

There were quite stark differences between younger and older cohorts. People aged 18-34 were less likely than the average respondent to agree that politics is too short-term across all survey waves (-7 to -11pp). In contrast, people 55 and older were much more likely than the average respondent to agree that politics is too short-term, however this difference steadily waned over the years, from +15pp in 2017 to +6pp in December 2023 – a period that includes the change in response option from “don’t know” to “neither agree nor disagree”.

People with 12 or fewer years of formal education were consistently less likely than the average respondent to agree that politics is too short-term (-3 to -6pp). In contrast, those with a university education were consistently more likely to say that it is.

The sentiments of “other” voters differed the most from those of the average respondent; their likelihood of agreeing with the statement increased over time, from +7pp in 2017 to +12pp in both 2023 survey waves. Given the emergence of the teals at the 2022 federal election, this finding may not be due to individual people changing their minds, but may reflect new people with different pre-existing values and concerns have joined the “other” voter group.

Greens voters also started off more likely than the average respondent to agree with the statement (+7 to +10pp), but this changed to being similar to the average in both 2023 survey waves – again following the change in response option from “don’t know” to “unsure”.

Ordinary citizens should have a greater say in setting the policy priorities of government

People have been asked whether they believe ordinary citizens should be consulted more on the government’s policy priorities four times since 2017: in October 2017, October 2018, March 2023, and December 2023.

Over all the survey years, people have been much more likely to agree (either strongly or somewhat) than disagree (either strongly or somewhat) with this statement. Agreement with the statement ranged from a maximum of 77% in 2018 to 60% in both 2023 survey waves.

Compared to responses from the 2017 and 2018 surveys, a somewhat lower percentage of people agreed with the statement in 2023 as some responses shifted from agreement to the “neither agree nor disagree” category (this category was changed in 2023 from “don’t know” in earlier years).

The proportion of people selecting “agree” decreased more than the proportion selecting “strongly agree” in both 2023 survey waves.

Cohort variance

Groups more likely to agree with this proposition in all years were people 55 and older (+1 to +7pp, +9 to +14 for “strongly agree”), and people not voting Green or for one of the two major parties (+2 to +12pp, +15 to +17pp for “strongly agree” ).

Men were more likely to disagree with the idea that ordinary citizens should be more involved in setting policy priorities in 2017 and 2018 (+3pp in both years) but this difference disappeared in 2023 – the period following the change from “don’t know” to “neither agree nor disagree”.

People with 12 or fewer years of schooling were less likely than the average respondent to agree that citizens should be more involved in policymaking, (ranging from -2 to -7pp), while South Australians were consistently less likely to disagree with the statement (-3 to -7pp).

Voters tended to agree more when their party of preference was not in office at a federal level. People who are not inclined to vote for ALP, Coalition or Green were consistently more likely to agree that citizens should be more involved in policymaking across all survey waves (+2 to +12pp).

Our elected representatives do not seem to be serving my interests

People have been asked to nominate their level of agreement with the statement “elected representatives don’t seem to serve my interests” four times since 2017: in October 2017, October 2018, March 2023, and December 2023.

The question’s responses underwent a revision prior to the March 2023 wave, where the “neither agree nor disagree” option replaced the previous “don’t know” option.

Over all the survey years, people have been more likely to agree (either strongly or somewhat) than disagree (either strongly or somewhat) that politicians do not serve their interests. Agreement with the statement ranged from a maximum of 70% in 2018 to 52% in March 2023.

Compared to responses from the 2017 and 2018 surveys, a somewhat lower percentage of people agreed with the statement in both 2023 survey waves as some responses shifted from agreement to the “neither agree nor disagree” category.

Cohort variance

Some groups were more likely than the average survey respondent to agree with the statement in all years: people aged 55 years and older (+2 to +11pp), and people not inclined to vote for the ALP, Coalition or Greens (+12 to +23pp).

Regarding age, divergences from the average response were most pronounced between those aged 18-34 and those aged 55 and older. Younger people were consistently less likely than the average respondent to say politicians do not serve their interests (-5 to -8pp). They were also more likely to disagree with the statement, though the magnitude of this difference decreased over time (0 to +4pp), and with the introduction of the “neither agree nor disagree” option.

People aged 55 years and older were considerably more likely to say politicians do not serve their interests, however this narrowed over time from +11pp more likely in 2017 to +2pp more likely in December 2023, following the change to survey options.

People who have completed 12 or fewer years of schooling were less likely than the average respondent to say that politicians do not serve their interests in 2017 (-8pp) and 2018 (-9pp). At the same time, university-educated people were more likely to agree with the statement than the average during this time (+2 to +4pp). However, these trends flipped in 2023, with people with less education tracking the average quite closely and university-educated people being less likely to agree (-3 to -4pp).

The change in federal government in May 2022 seems to have affected responses across the political spectrum. Compared to the average respondent, Coalition voters were less likely to agree with the statement in 2017 and 2018 (-2 to -5pp) and more likely to disagree (+9 to +10pp), but this flipped in 2023 (agree: +4 to +6pp, disagree: -1 to -3pp). The opposite was the case for Labor voters who were more likely to say politicians do not serve their interests in the first two waves (+1 to +6pp), but less likely to agree with it in 2023 (-15pp for both survey waves).

Our elected parliaments are generally effective at tackling major challenges for the country

Australians have been asked to nominate whether they believe elected parliaments are effective at tackling major national challenges four times: in October 2017, October 2018, March 2023, and December 2023.

In 2017 and 2018, people were moderately more likely to disagree (45% both years) than agree (either strongly or somewhat) with this statement (39% in 2017, 36% in 2018).

Compared to responses from the 2017 and 2018 surveys, lower proportions of people both agreed and disagreed with the statement in the 2023 survey waves following the introduction of the “neither agree nor disagree” option to replace the previous “don’t know” category.

In December 2023, one in three respondents agreed that parliaments are generally effective tackling challenges, one in three neither agreed nor disagreed, and one in three disagreed, believing that parliaments are not generally effective at tackling major challenges.

Cohort variance

Several groups were more likely to disagree that parliaments are generally effective in all years: people 55 years and older (+6 to +13pp), people not inclined to support the ALP, Coalition or Greens (+13 to +22pp), and those not in paid work (+2 to +6pp).

18 to 34-year-olds showed greater faith in parliaments, being up to +7pp more likely to agree they are effective in facing national challenges and less likely (up to +11pp) to disagree with the statement. On the other hand, people aged 55 were more cynical about parliamentary effectiveness in the face of major challenges.

About the authors

Mara Hammerle

Dr Mara Hammerle is policy adviser for the Sustainable Economy Program at the Centre for Policy Development

Lachlan Williams

Lachlan Williams is communications director at the Centre for Policy Development

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