This week’s Essential Research survey finds Labor copping a forceful backlash from the carbon tax, with the two-party vote flipping from 51-49 in favour of Labor to 52-48 in favour of the Coalition – a very sharp turnaround given that a) Essential is a two week rolling average, so half the sample is that which contributed to Labor’s strong result last time, and b) even a part of the more recent week’s sample was surveyed before the tax was announced. The major parties have swapped two points on the primary vote, with Labor down to 37 per cent and the Coalition up to 45 per cent, while the Greens are down a point to 10 per cent. Respondents to this week’s segment of the survey were also asked to nominate their preferred Liberal leader, and contrary to the recent Morgan poll it had Tony Abbott in front with 24 per cent against 18 per cent for Malcolm Turnbull and 16 per cent for Joe Hockey.

The remainder of the survey was dominated by a complex exercise to gauge attitudes to religion and multiculturalism. Fifty-seven per cent of respondents initially professed themselves “concerned” about the number of Muslims in Australia, while only 38 per cent were not concerned. They were then asked to estimate the number of Muslims in Australia (perhaps a problematic exercise in a poll conduct online, where participants have Google close at hand). Logically enough, concern was found to be associated with the size of the estimate. Sixty-five percentage had the number too high (it’s 1.7 per cent). When the real figure was pointed out to them, the number of concerned moderated to 50 per cent, and the not concerned rose to 45 per cent.

In other questions, 57 per cent rated the contribution of multiculturalism to Australian society as positive against 29 per cent negative; 65 per cent opposed rejecting prospective immigrants on the basis of religion, while 19 per cent were supportive; and 61 per cent agreed that “some politicians raise issues of race and religion for political purposes just to generate votes”, with only 27 per cent believing “these politicians” (who ever could they mean?) were “genuinely concerned about Australia’s future”.

UPDATE: Essential has issued an explanatory statement regarding the questions on Muslim immigrants, evidently anticipating criticism that its approach amounts to a political statement. Results from a further question on Muslim immigrants will be unveiled on Channel Ten this evening.

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This week we take the unusual step of providing a justification for the questions we have asked in the Essential Report.

Two things that drive our research and communications practice are – really understanding how people feel and finding communications solutions to problems.

This week we have asked a series of questions about Australia’s attitude to multiculturalism and Muslims in particular. We debated whether it was worth giving voice to some of the attitudes we might find. But we also wanted to show how research can find different responses on a range of issues, and how politicians make choices about the attitudes they wish to promote, provoke, perpetuate or even prevent.

We also wanted to show how simple bits of information can change people’s attitudes and responses. For too long some conservative politicians have been running agendas that purport to directly reference the community’s fear or anxiety, but because the polling has remained hidden in a desk drawer they have been able to claim they are merely debating an issue.

This small poll shows the choices politicians can make in discussion and leading an issue.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

Liz
North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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