Australia is currently the only country in the world that requires offshore processing and mandatory detention of asylum seekers who arrive without a visa. The UN and various human rights NGOs have criticised Operation Sovereign Borders and related policies furiously, and a recent investigation suggests that detention facility officers may be liable from crimes against humanity under the International Criminal Court. Nonetheless, the policy enjoys bipartisan backing, and is broadly supported by the Australian public. The research to be presented is part of a co-authored project with Jill Sheppard. In it, we aim to understand how malleable citizens’ views on the asylum seeker policy are, and under what conditions people might be motivated to voice opposition and take action against it. More specifically, we conducted a survey experiment in which we randomly exposed respondents to alternative frames (also known as narratives): international legal, moral, reputational, and cost-benefit. Overall, the preliminary findings strongly suggest that certain framing can reduce approval of the policy, even when the Australian government’s justification is also made clear. However, the evidence also suggests that frames largely fall short when it comes to motivating people to take political action against the policy. In short, it is possible to change peoples’ minds, but harder to get them to take action.
About the presenters:
Jana von Stein is an associate professor of political science at the Australian National University. She joined the academic staff as an Associate Professor in 2018. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, and then a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington. Jana studies international institutions – both their design and their effectiveness – and is particularly interested in human rights and environmental affairs. Her earlier research focused specifically on questions of compliance. More recently, she has been looking at the human rights treaty behaviour of autocracies, and the use of survey experiments and text analysis in international relations research. Her work has been featured in the American Political Science Review, the Australian Journal of Political Science, the British Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and in other venues.
Jill Sheppard's research focuses on why people participate in politics, what opinions they hold and why, and how both are shaped by political institutions and systems. Her current projects include studies of ethnic political participation in Australia, opinion formation and electoral behaviour, compulsory voting and its effects on voters, internet use and political learning, and political socialisation in the workplace. Recent papers on participation and voting have been published in Australia and internationally. Methodologically, her interests focus on sampling and fielding population-based surveys, questionnaire design, and respondent recruitment and retention. From 2017, Jill is an investigator on Australia’s contribution to the Asian Barometer and World Values Survey projects, and an investigator on the Australian Election Study.