Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The national importance of the latest Scanlon report

Yesterday Neil Whitfield's Snapshot of a nation losing its faith reported on the latest Scanlon Report into Australian attitudes and perceptions. Much of the reporting has been negative. I quote David Marr who appears to have been sucking on his usual lemon:

WE ARE growing distrustful and gloomy; we doubt government does the right thing by the Australian people; most of us don't trust one another; and though we are generally optimistic about our futures, there has been a sharp rise in the number of us who fear being worse off in two or three years' time.

I spent several hours this morning reading the report. I have a very different take, although I need to reread properly before commenting in detail. Here I want to make some preliminary background comments.

To begin with, I thought that this was a very good report, much much better than the earlier Challenging Australian Racism report. It contains a raft of statistical material that allows some of the nuances in Australian attitudes to be teased out across the dimensions of space, demography and political affiliation.

One of the big issues in interpreting data such as this is just what the data means. You have snapshots of views at a point in time, of changes in attitudes in short periods, hints of changes in attitudes over much longer periods. How do we interpret this and how do we relate it to the complex changing mosaic of Australian life?

In the short term, national views on specific issues fluctuate depending on circumstances such as the economy and the attitudes of key political and media players. In the longer term, those views can be seen to be ephemeral in the overall process of change.

I make this point because, unlike David Marr, I thought that the report provided a highly positive view of Australian attitudes when considered in a historic context. Just as importantly, I thought that the report provided important indicators as to the issues and challenges that we need to manage as we track forward.

We are all biased by our own perceptions. To my mind, the report provided support to many of the things that I have argued on this blog. This may simply be a case of me interpreting the report in my own frame, but I think that it is a little more than that.

My time is limited. However, I do want to look at some elements of the report, main themes if you like, to try to prove my case. At the risk of an odd statement, I was actually quite excited by this report. I offer my congratulations to Professor Andrew Markus and his colleagues on a job well done.   


Anonymous said...

Jim, maybe side issues but I just want to note a couple of points about this report. I see from the methodology that the approx 2000 interviewees were sourced from the White Pages around Australia. Two things:

Nowadays I'm guessing that fixed line probably services in the low 80%s of our population.
Secondly those retaining fixed line services are possibly skewed towards older Australians?

So while the results of such surveys are interesting, I wonder a little about their representation of the population as a whole, and about the comparisons to be made between surveys.

ps wv is dense! That's me in a word. ;)

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting point, kvd. It appears to have been properly structured, certainly they compare the political composition with newspoll results, plus a large enough sample to allow examination of varying results by age ranges.

Still, I need to look at it again with your point in mind.