Mapping social cohesion: the Scanlon Foundation surveys 2014

29 Oct 2014

Provides a series of detailed surveys on social cohesion, immigration and population issues.

Executive summary

Key findings

Australia remains a highly cohesive society. The seven Scanlon Foundation surveys conducted since 2007 have found a consistent pattern of:

  • Positive identification with Australia;
  • Agreement that in Australia there is economic opportunity and reward for hard work;
  • Satisfaction with financial circumstances.The 2014 Scanlon-Monash Index of Social Cohesion

(SMI) finds marginal upward movement in four of the five domains of social cohesion, the exception being the domain of social justice and equity.

At the time of the survey, June-July 2014, there was some evidence of a lessening of concern over issues of immigration and cultural diversity. Thus five questions used as indicators of intolerance show marginal improvement. In the ranking of problems facing Australia, the most significant change is the decline of the asylum issue. In response to an open-ended
question, the issue ranked equal second in 2013, mentioned by 12% of respondents; in 2014, it was mentioned by less than 4%.

In a surprising finding, the 2014 survey recorded the lowest level of concern over immigration across the seven Scanlon Foundation surveys. Just 35% consider that the immigration intake is ‘too high’ while 58% agree that it is ‘about right’ or ‘too low’. This is possiblythe highest current level of positive sentiment towards immigration in the western world.

There is, however, also confirmation of a range of negative findings noted in previous surveys.

Within the SMI, the index of acceptance/rejection, after sharp downward movement in 2013, has stabilised, but remains the lowest ranked of the five domains.

Reported experience of discrimination remains close to the highest level recorded in the surveys: 19% in 2013, 18% in 2014.

Questions on attitude to Christian, Buddhist and Muslim faith groups find that, as in past surveys, a very small proportion are negative towards Christian and Buddhist faiths (close to 5%), but a proportion almost five times higher (close to 25%) towards Muslims.

There are also concerns over the working of Australian democracy. Trust in government remains well below the level recorded in 2007-2009.

While there is a high level of agreement (88%) that democracy, whatever its problems, is the best system of government, just 15% agree that the system ‘works fine as it is’.

The 2014 survey further explored attitudes to multiculturalism and integration of immigrants, building on earlier surveys. The results indicate marked differences across the population – for example, between those of non-English speaking background and third generation Australians. Within the third generation, opinion is divided on the extent of integration to be expected of immigrants, and while there is broad acceptance of diversity there is clear indication that a large proportion are undecided or lacking firm views when issues of integration are considered.

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