What do Age readers think?

There is a 1960s film – which sadly Google can’t seem to help find its title – which features a discussion between an FBI informant and an activist driving the truck they are both in.

With the degree of subtlety you would expect from an FBI informant he interrogates the driver about his readership of the New York Times. Back in the Hoover days that was probably enough to get you on an FBI list.

In Australia ASIO has a track record similar to the FBI but slightly less systematic than the FBI in feeding stories to selected and malleable journalists while keeping a close eye on less amenable ones.

If ASIO was making similar hasty judgements today about media threats and friends it would probably be about The Age and Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC while its favoured outlets would be News Limited titles and programs.

Regular Age readers would concede that it is not quite yet The Australian even if it has grown to exhibit all the weaknesses and prejudices of most of our media. Focus on the immediate rather than the long term; obsess over changes in words from politicians; seek conflict whether it is there or not; and, speculate constantly about the future because by the time the print edition is published all the current news has been available online for hours.

On the other hand, its readers do still tend to be progressive if responses over the past few months to its weekly Readers Panel are any indication.

Back on 2 August 2023 the Panel was asked whether property developers should be banned from making political donations in Victoria. 86% said yes and only 8% said no. Unsure was 6%. Respondents were less sure about whether the Matildas would win the World Cup and 53% were in favour of lifting migrant caps to allow more visas for the parents of permanent residents.

On October 6 they were asked whether they supported a super-profits tax on Australia’s banks and that got 72% support making Age readers rather more progressive and courageous than the Albanese Government. 80% of them also thought solar panels should be mandatory in all new houses while 55% were opposed to having a public holiday if the Matildas won the World Cup.

On October 16 half opposed a two year nationwide freeze on rents suggesting that conventional wisdom about baby boomers owning second and more properties might be particularly true for Age readers. Almost two thirds agreed with Labor’s move to call Gaza and the West Bank occupied Palestinian territories and Israeli settlements illegal. A similar percentage was in favour of organ donation laws being opt-out rather than opt-in.

By the Voice referendum Age readers obviously believed the polls and only 35% thought Australia would vote Yes while 39% accurately predicted the outcome.

Interestingly a referendum question on 13 September about what most influenced readers’ decision to vote Yes or No in the referendum found 61% saying it was a conscience vote; family and friends 3%; political messages 2%; personal research 28%; and, zero percent social media. The last finding seems improbable to say the least.

In a later post-referendum survey 57% of respondents said the Federal Government should now pursue a treaty with Indigenous Australians.

On the more mundane question of whether the $380 million bill to scrap the Commonwealth Games was OK it was 45% yes and 44% no.

69% of readers didn’t believe blocking Qatar Airways bid for extra services was in the national interest – this motivated no doubt by having travelled Qatar and then compared it with any recent Qantas experiences. Incidentally, 74% thought Alan Joyce should pay back his bonuses and on 27 September a question about whether Qantas Chair, Richard Goyder should resign got 78% support with only 6% responding No.

On a massively contentious Melbourne issue – should car parking and drop off zones be removed around schools some 51% said No and 30% Yes. This is probably a rough guide to the number of parents who roll up in massive climate changing 4WDs and the number who walk their children to and from school or take public transport.

On September 20 a big majority said owners of short-stay accommodation (such as Airbnb) should have to pay a special levy on their properties. Many Age readers might own many properties, but they are not that keen on property alongside theirs being rented out for parties.

In the same survey 84% were worried about the summer bushfire season. 43% of them were also intelligent and perceptive enough to think Collingwood would win The Grand Final – demonstrating yet again that we Magpie fans are not stereotypical tattooed no-teeth thugs but are actually readers of serious media and well able to give carefully considered responses to questionnaires.

When Daniel Andrews finally stepped down readers were asked how they rated his job as Premier – 36% said good and 34% outstanding while 22% said poor or inadequate. Herald-Sun readers may have had a different opinion although the last State election result would suggest the Murdochs had little or possibly counter-productive impact.

On 25 October 56% of respondents supported a congestion fee for drivers traveling in the CBD during peak hours and 58% thought drivers had been more aggressive and less patient in Melbourne since COVID lockdown.

On another question on the same day – whether the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas had made you feel less safe in Melbourne 78% said No. Three weeks later 58% said No when asked if school children who walked out of school to protest in support of Palestine should face disciplinary action.

The same 15 November survey found that 82% thought Australia should open its borders to Pacific Island nations that are under threat of being destroyed by climate change and 59% supported the Allan Government continuing its plan to build the Suburban Rail Loop.

A week later 43% opposed the policy that foreign nationals who had served time for violent offences having to wear ankle bracelets and adhere to curfews indefinitely. 39% said Yes they should and 18% were unsure.

At the end of November 73% disagreed that the spending habits of Baby Boomers were to blame for Australia’s current cost of living plight. Only 15% agreed. In the same survey 66% were not concerned about the first arrival of an asylum seeker boat to mainland Australia in a decade – Age readers suggesting that Labor and Teal seats might be partially immune to any Dutton Victorian scare campaign.

…and then – just when you were safely secure in your Victorian liberal, progressive Age-reading bubble the penultimate Age survey asked whether readers agreed with Australia’s decision to vote in favour of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza at the United Nations – 83% said No.

A week later there was a ‘slight’ correction – the artist had mixed up the slices of the Pie chart and the correct answer was 83% in support of Yes.

Nevertheless, in the same survey 53% didn’t support sportspeople being allowed to wear political slogans on their clothing suggesting the idea that sport and politics shouldn’t mix is entrenched – despite the reality from the 1936 Berlin Games to the 1956 Melbourne water polo match between Russia and Hungary and just about every other international sporting contest.