Is Indigenous voice referendum struggling in Australia? We place a high value on our nation’s relative lack of political fervor and physical violence because these are two of the factors that contribute most to its steady state. Individuals in Australia are one of the few individuals in the world who are able to state, without sounding completely ludicrous, that politics should “stay out” of huge parts of everyday life. Australia is one of the few places in the world where this is possible.
According to the political scientist Grant Wyeth, Australia is conservative not in the sense that it is politically conservative, but rather in the sense that it is conservative psychologically and philosophically. We tend to conceive of administration, not values, as being the primary focus of governmental work.
Wyeth contends that this results in a situation in which we are unable to react quickly enough to rapidly shifting conditions. For instance, we are very loyal to long-standing alliances, such as the one we have with the United States, and we fail to even consider, much less make preparations for, the potential that the democracy in that country could collapse.
A public existence that is, for the most part, uninteresting might be a form of luxury. Which raises the question of why, in less than a year, the Australian people, who are often slow to change, have changed from a clear majority of the population supporting the voice to parliament to just roughly 45% of the population preparing to vote yes in the future referendum. This raises the question of why this has happened.
If one were to believe the results of recent surveys, then this is the case. I’ll be honest and say that I have my doubts about such surveys, mostly because of how quickly things are supposed to be changing. (For an explanation of the complexity, see this link). If they are wrong, it will be one of the most significant surprises in the annals of polling history. However, there is no way to get around the reality that they are all giving the same general story.
What factors have contributed to this transformation in the general public’s viewpoint? According to recent comments, the arguments that are most popular among the political class are that a negative fear campaign is more powerful than a positive one, along with the claim that racism is to blame.
The media must accept some of the responsibility for this situation. And there is no question that some media outlets have played on the bad and stoked the anxiety in their audiences.
I don’t want to rule out the possibility that racism or fear tactics could be causes. The debate around the referendum has brought forth poisonous examples of both. On the other hand, I believe that for the vast majority of people who are not yet cynical, the issue is most likely about other things.
The role of the media is multifaceted and significant, but it is not a force that operates in isolation. We journalists want to think of ourselves as being superior to the misinformation that is spread on social media, but there is now quite a lot of authoritative data that demonstrates we function in the same ecosystem as the disinformation that is spread on social media.
When we report on extremism or false information, even if our intention is to disprove it, we run the risk of making it more widespread. Those that cause a stir on social media often find themselves getting featured on Sky News or even presenting programmes as a result of their activity. Extremists will then publish the content, which has frequently been altered and manipulated, on various social media platforms. The mainstream media’s liberal perspective then reports on those responses, and the cycle continues.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that ruckuses of this nature don’t sway many votes.
We tend to take a moderate stance on most issues, and that holds true for our mainstream media as well. This holds true even in the present day, when the vast majority of individuals point to a growing partisanship.
The Digital News Report from the University of Canberra is the most reliable source of information regarding this topic. This report is a component of an ongoing international survey that is organized by the Reuters Institute of Journalism at Oxford University. According to the findings of the 2022 research, our nation’s media are significantly less politicized than their counterparts in the United States and in the vast majority of other nations.
Free-to-air television is not only a significant source of news for the majority of Australians, but it is also the great centralizer. Sky News is not as widely seen as the ABC, which is regarded as Australia’s most reliable news brand. According to the findings of the survey on digital news, “even among rightwing participants, ABC TV News is more popular than Sky.” And by a very large margin.
It is true that Sky is growing its following among viewers who lean to the right, mostly through its YouTube channel; but, it is difficult to determine how much of that growth can be attributed to an Australian audience. It is quite evident that a significant portion of the video that is hosted on the YouTube channel was conceived of and organized with the US audience in mind.
There are more aspects of the media that are important to consider. The majority of media channels, with the exception of ABC, are not trusted, and the Murdoch publications are trusted the least of all media outlets. About 17 percent of people in Australia have a subscription to a news service. A growing proportion of people are completely avoiding the news. The vast majority of people have a pessimistic outlook on news organizations, and the vast majority of people, 52%, want journalists to focus on reporting the facts rather than flaunt our beliefs.
Because of this, writing this column is not only humorous but also sarcastic.
The research and theories that have been compiled into libraries witness to the fact that the influence of the media is anything but straightforward. The media play a role in establishing the framework for the argument. It offers a language and vocabulary that can be used in dispute. We can only hope that some of the better content will contribute to the discussions taking place at dinner tables and in workplaces regarding the voice, and will therefore reach a wider audience.
However, I have my doubts that the media are the primary reason why the nation’s opinion appears to have shifted on the voice. So what could possibly account for it?
The number of those who were planning to vote yes decreased after Peter Dutton said that he would be voting against the voice. I believe that this sent a message to a large number of Australians that they could not confidently leave the decision-making on this matter up to a political elite that was unified.
The national disposition is one of pessimism. People are having a hard time. Even those who are in a comfortable financial position have less money to spend.
The lives of many Indigenous Australians are marked by a profoundly heightened awareness of threat and vulnerability. But this is the worst possible time to make a request in this decidedly depressed nation, even if it is for something as unpretentious, kind, and reconciliatory as the voice.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the downward trend in the opinion polls is a reflection of the fact that, as the date gets closer, a lot of people in Australia resent being compelled to give any thought to the subject at all. And when they are confronted with the poisonous nature of the discussion, it makes them despise it even more. I have a sneaking suspicion that the more caustic outbursts made by the no campaign are, if anything, counterproductive. The high-flown language of yes is another example of this.
The last, barely clinging to life hope for the yes side is that the trend, which has already developed rapidly, might be turned around even more rapidly. I have no trouble believing that as many as thirty percent of voters are still on the fence about which candidate they will support.
In my efforts to go out of my comfort zone and communicate with voters, I have discovered not hatred toward my voice but rather a lack of engagement on their part. There are still a lot of individuals who haven’t given it any thought, and those people are hesitant to start.
In such a pessimistic climate, within such a conservative nation, what could possibly convince them? The possibility exists that the unassuming suggestion that the voice might better administration, which in the Australian mentality is synonymous with government.
The most recent advertisement for the Yes campaign features a remark that the answer “makes possible” better results. Thankfully, this is the core idea that the ad is trying to get through. I have a sneaking suspicion that it would have been more beneficial to have started having that conversation many months ago – quietly, without any drama or sense of righteous indignation.
On the other hand, hindsight is a fantastic thing to have.