Scanlon Foundation: Mapping social cohesion 2017


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Content type
Short article

March 2018


The Scanlon Foundation has been researching social cohesion in Australia since 2007, when its first national survey was conducted to explore social cohesion, immigration and population issues. The foundation is dedicated to the advancement of Australia as a welcoming, prosperous and cohesive nation. 

The 2017 research marks the tenth national survey. It found that while the majority of Australians are supportive of immigration and multiculturalism, there has also been an increase in reports of discrimination, a consistently higher level of negative opinion towards Muslims and declining trust in governments.

The research study, conducted between June and July in 2017, consisted of a randomly sampled national survey (1,500 respondents) and two online surveys (an additional 2,702 respondents). The national survey included questions to calculate the Scanlon–Monash Index (SMI) of social cohesion, which is designed to highlight shifts in opinion. The SMI measures social cohesion across five domains:

  • belonging
  • worth
  • social justice and equity
  • political participation
  • acceptance and rejection of others.

The 2017 research found that social cohesion had decreased 0.8 index points since the previous year, recording the lowest SMI score since 2013 with decreases across all domains except for political participation.

Migration is a key focus of the research. The report, Mapping social cohesion, notes that positive attitudes towards rates of immigration have remained relatively stable over time. When comparing results from 2007 and 2017, the proportion of respondents reporting that the number of immigrants accepted into Australia was “about right” or “too low” has remained consistent at 56% and 53% respectively.

However, it was also found that reported experiences of discrimination on the basis of skin colour, ethnic origin or religion have more than doubled from 9% in 2007 to 20% in 2017. Furthermore, while the majority of survey respondents (85%) were supportive of multiculturalism, the report also identified a relatively high level of negative opinion towards Muslims relative to other faith groups. The 2017 survey reported 25% of respondents having a negative or strongly negative personal attitude towards Muslims, compared with around 4.5% of respondents reporting negative attitudes towards Christians or Buddhists. The report notes that despite increasing concern over terrorism and national security, there has not been a statistically significant shift in negative opinions towards Muslims over the history of the Scanlon research.

Mapping social cohesion also reported on the ongoing decline in trust of government. In 2017, only 29% of respondents expressed trust in government. This figure has been declining since 2009 when it was at a high of 48%, and has been measured between 27% and 30% during the last four years. Respondents ranked the quality of government and political leadership as the second most important area of concern for Australia in 2017, after economic issues, which included poverty and unemployment.

The full report is available via the Scanlon Foundation or Monash University.


Markus, A. (2017). Mapping social cohesion: The Scanlon Foundation surveys 2017. Caulfield East, Victoria: Monash University. Retrieved from: