Women wearing Australian flag as hijab

Australians wildly overestimate the number of Muslim Australians and say they are concerned about them — but less so than five years ago — this week’s Essential Report shows, suggesting that the efforts of bigots to whip up Islamophobia may not be as successful as they seem.

Asked if they are “concerned” about the number of Muslims in Australia, 53% of voters said they were very or somewhat concerned, compared to 42% who said they were not very concerned or not at all concerned. However, that compares to 57% who reported being concerned in a comparable Essential poll in 2011.

Australians also have little idea how many of their fellow citizens are Muslims. More than 50% of people think there are more Muslims than their actual number of just over 2% of the population — including 12% of voters who think Muslims make up 5-10%, and 15% who think Muslims make up more than 10%.

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Voting intention breakdowns show that “other” voters, unsurprisingly, are most concerned: 69% of “other” voters are concerned (including 39% who are “very concerned”); 61% of Coalition voters say they’re concerned, 49% of Labor voters (who split almost evenly between concerned and not concerned) and 32% of Greens voters. “Other” voters are also most likely to overestimate the number of Australian Muslims — but only narrowly ahead of Labor voters, who also greatly overestimate the number but are significantly less concerned.

However, voters have a much better grasp of numbers than in 2011, when 39% of voters thought Muslims made up 6% or more of the population and just 17% were reasonably accurate in their estimate, compared to 28% now. And when told of the actual proportion of Muslims citizens, voter concerns drop — and drop to lower than in 2011. After being told, voters split evenly on concern, 47% apiece.

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The level of concern among Labor and Greens voters drops seven points and among Coalition voters by five points; only “other” voters are resistant, with concern levels post-information only dropping two points. Like Pauline Hanson and other far-right politicians, perhaps such voters are indeed fact-resistant.

However, more Australians now have a positive view of multiculturalism, with 61% saying it has made a positive contribution to Australia compared to 57% when the same questions was asked in previous years. Even “other” voters on balance regard multiculturalism as positive, 48%-38%.

But if we’re more realistic and less hysterical about Muslims and multiculturalism, there’s little improvement on another issue: nearly a quarter of voters say migrants should be rejected on the basis of religion — up three points from 21% in 2014 and up five points from 19% in 2011 — while 56% rejected religion-based immigration outright. Labor and Greens voters were most strongly opposed, but even more “other” voters rejected such discrimination than endorsed it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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