This article has been paid for by the Rationalists Association of NSW
The NSW Rationalists commissioned YouGov Galaxy, which also does Newspoll, for a poll question about separation of government and religion. The survey was conducted from August 30 to September 3 from a national sample of 1,027.
The question asked was, “Australia has no formal recognition of separation of government and religion. Would you approve or disapprove of a constitutional amendment to formally separate government and religion?” Full results are available for download in the attached spreadsheet.
Overall, 53% approved of such an amendment, just 14% disapproved and 32% were unsure; these numbers do not sum to 100% due to rounding. 60% of men and 48% of women approved. Younger age groups were most likely to approve, but 48% of those aged over 65 also approved. Majorities approved in NSW (55%), Victoria (52%) and Queensland (59%), but not in SA or WA (both 45% approve). There was little difference in approval between the five capital cities (54%) and the rest of Australia (53%).
In the eastern seaboard states, 218 to 285 people were polled. These are small samples, so the estimates of approval in these states are error-prone. It is unlikely that Victoria really has a lower approval of this amendment than Queensland. The samples for WA and SA are just over 100, and the estimates for these states are more error-prone than for the eastern seaboard states.
PM Scott Morrison advocates new laws to protect religious freedom, but this poll question does not suggest there is any yearning within Australia for more religion. The same-sex marriage plebiscite, in which Yes to SSM won by 61.6% to 38.4%, was a huge defeat for social conservatism.
It is not surprising that 32% were undecided on this question, as it is not an issue that has had any media attention. In Australia, amending the Constitution requires a referendum that must be carried by both a national majority and majorities in at least four of the six states. Only eight of the 44 constitutional referendums have been carried.
If a major political party could be convinced to support a referendum on the separation of government and religion, it would be best to hold such a referendum concurrently with a general election. Analyst Peter Brent has argued that midterm referendums are much less likely to succeed as voters dislike being dragged to the polls, and such referendums become a chance to kick the government without putting the opposition in.
In an Ipsos poll for the National Secular Lobby, conducted in January 2016 from a sample of 1,032, 57.5% said it was very important to separate personal religious belief from the business of government, 21% somewhat important and 13% said it was either not very important or not at all important. 43% said it was very important to formally separate religion and government, 29% somewhat important and 18% said it was either not very important or not at all important.
In April, Newspoll conducted a survey for The Australian on whether Australia should become a republic. 50% were in favour of a republic, and 41% were against. The same demographic patterns were replicated in the republic question as in the separation of government and religion question: higher support among men and the young.