Wed, 21 Aug 2019

Young Australians don?t trust politicians. Here's one reason why

The Conversation
16 May 2019, 15:20 GMT+10

With the election campaign racing to its conclusion, there's been a lot of talk about the impact younger voters will have on the result.

Some political leaders might view the potential voting power of young people with disdain. But it might be wise for them to listen more closely to the views of young people about why their trust of politicians is so low, and what needs to be done in order to gain the respect of younger constituents.

Since 2006, we have been conducting longitudinal research with a single-aged cohort of 2,000 young people. When the study commenced, our participants were aged 12-13 years old. They are now in their mid-20s. The information they have given us over the years offers some interesting insights into the attitudes and behaviours of young Australians.

Why trust is important

Trust in government is critical for the effective operation of a democracy. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), for example, identified trust as "one of the most important foundations upon which the

Qualities of a good political leader

With the quality of political leadership playing heavily on the minds of our participants, we asked what they want from the next prime minister.

The most common responses were stability and integrity. In terms of stability, they simply do not want to see prime ministers coming and going, as has been the case since 2010. They believe the next governing party must support their leader for the duration of the term that they are in government.

Integrity is also important. They would like the prime minster to act in the interests of all Australians and not just those who voted for them. They believe that a good leader has clearly identifiable values and advances policies that serve the broader public good.

Honesty is also important. They want a prime minister who will do what they say they are going to do. They are also looking for a leader capable of admitting when they are wrong, instead of making excuses and blaming others.

Looking after the national interest

Somewhat unexpectedly, a recent poll found that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is Australians' most trusted politician. Her attributes are seen to include integrity, commitment, and relevance.

Interestingly, when we asked our participants if they could think of an Australian prime minister who had demonstrated any admirable attributes, the most common response was John Howard. This was irrespective of the party the young person supported. Although they might not have agreed with his policies, they appreciated that John Howard represented a level of stability that has not been seen since.

The Howard government's reforms to national gun laws drew significant praise by our participants, possibly due to recent events in Christchurch. The fact that the Howard government was able to bring about significant reforms to firearms policy was admirable, especially in face of vehement opposition from its own constituency.

This may just be the key for national leaders after the election. While debates about policy are to be expected, young voters are ultimately willing to support leaders who are transparent, honest, and who will advance the national interest rather than the interests of their own faction or party.

Author: Jacqueline Laughland-Booy | The ConversationThe Conversation

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