The qualities Australians want to see in their politicians

Australian voters value honesty, truthfulness and trust from their politicians above all else, an Ipsos survey commissioned by the University of Melbourne has found.

Asked this question: ‘What quality do you deem most important in a politician or political leader?’, nearly 44 per cent of the 1006 respondents said honesty, truthfulness and trust are the qualities they deemed most important in their political leaders.

Leadership (16 per cent), ethical behaviour and integrity (14 per cent), impact (13 per cent), and the ability to listen and adapt (10 per cent) were the other qualities most frequently mentioned.

This survey was commissioned as part of the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership, which recognises politicians who have demonstrated outstanding leadership on a significant public policy issue through courageous and collaborative action.

The prize is offered in two categories: the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year, and the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year. The winners will be announced next week and will speak at The McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership Oration later this year.

When asked to rank in order of importance five specific qualities that are desirable for a politician or political leader, the survey respondents ranked ethical behaviour (52 per cent) the highest, followed by vision (22 per cent), courage (11 per cent), impact (9 per cent) and collaboration (6 per cent).

Respondents were also asked ‘What Australian political achievement, or action, has had the most positive impact in 2019?’. Eighty per cent of respondents said either there was none, or they couldn’t name/were unsure of one. The bushfire relief/recovery, Scott Morrison’s re-election and same sex/marriage equality were among the 2019 political achievements and actions that the other respondents mentioned.

“This survey shows honesty, truthfulness and trust matter more than ever to Australian voters,” said Professor John Howe, Director of the Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne.

“Voters care deeply about the behaviour of their elected representatives at all levels of government. Elected officials should realise these qualities, which are the bedrock of the McKinnon Prize, must now be part of the everyday national conversation, as much as policy formation and discussion.”

The survey was conducted between 20 February to 23 February 2020 across all States and Territories. Males (49.4 per cent) and females (50.6 per cent) were almost equally represented, as were respondents who said they voted for the Liberal Party (31.7 per cent) and ALP (31.3 per cent) at last year’s Federal Election.

All age groups in the survey (18-29, 30-49 and 50+) were unanimous that honesty, truthfulness and trust are the most important qualities in a politician. This view was also mirrored by metropolitan areas (42 per cent believed this to be a most important quality) and in regional areas (45 per cent of this cohort).

The McKinnon Prize in political leadership is in its third year. Previous winners of the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year are Senator Penny Wong and Senator Dean Smith. Previous winners of the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year are Councillor Vonda Malone and Senator Jordon Steele-John.

“The McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership helps promote true political leadership which can only strengthen Australia’s democracy,” Professor Howe said. “I have no doubt the 2019 winners, to be announced next week, will uphold the high standards and ethos of the McKinnon Prize.”

Full results are available here.