How engaged are voters in the upcoming federal election?
IT'S DIFFICULT to gage, but recent research indicates that up until now they have been largely disinterested.
In May, a survey commissioned for the Citizens Agenda Project at the University of Melbourne found only 36% of voters in a survey of 1,000 were taking a “good deal of interest” in the federal election.
In June, a report by the ANZSOG Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra, found that Australians are observers rather than participants in formal politics, and well over half (54.7%) could not remember conducting any political activity in the last two or three years other than casting a vote when required.
But has the public become more engaged since Kevin Rudd ousted Julia Gillard as Prime Minister? And surely now the election has been called, voters will start to listen?
Certainly opinion polls indicate the race is no longer a foregone conclusion and there appears to be renewed vigour in mainstream media coverage.
The grassroots advocacy group GetUp! says there does appear to have been low-level engagement by most Australians. "[But] It does seem that voters have become more engaged since Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister and this may have something to do with the fact that it now seems like a closer contest based on current opinion polls", GetUp's spokesman Rohan Wenn said.
But the director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne, Margaret Simons, disagrees.
"I think that the public opinion polls simply tell you how people are thinking of voting when they are asked by telephone on a particular day. It doesn't actually tell you much about how much attention they are paying or how interested they are. Our data would tend to suggest they are still pretty disengaged," she said.
Associate Professor Simons says there's not yet hard data on the subject, but she believes voters aren't engaged because politicians are not talking much about the issues which people really care about.
"I know that asylum seekers for example creates a great deal of noise. Whether or not it's actually a vote changer - there's a fair bit of .. data around which would suggest it's perhaps not a vote changer. People are concerned about housing affordability, livability in our major cities, education, health, and so far none of those issues are getting much airplay," she said.
Although there will inevitably be more interest as the election draws closer, at the moment the public seems more interested in the drugs scandal engulfing the Essendon Football Club than the federal election.
The Centre for Advancing Journalism is conducting
the Citizens Agenda project, which involves
voters of 10 key electorates using the Citizens'
Agenda-OurSay website to directly shape political
discussion in their local area.