Shifts in the Australian public’s opinions towards alcohol policies: 2004–2019
During the last decade, alcohol policy measures have received attention in Australian media. This study investigates changing trends in alcohol policy support and tries to identify shifts in specific demographic groups.
- After an increase from 2004 to 2013, support for more evidence-based policies on alcohol (e.g., limiting the availability of alcohol) has decreased in Australia since 2013.
- This change is happening as alcohol consumption is decreasing in Australia.
- Generally, there is a strong association between levels of alcohol use and support of alcohol policy (people with lower alcohol use tend to show higher support of alcohol policy), but the decrease of alcohol consumption has not led to an increase in support in Australia.
- Some scholars argue that support for evidence-based alcohol policy increase as consumption and harms increase and become more visible (and vice versa).
- The authors of this paper also note that the decrease in support could also be in response to negative media reporting around specific alcohol policy measures.
Research shows that the public response to alcohol policy measures have an important impact on future government decisions.
The study builds on previous analysis, finding a slow but steady decrease in support, across all demographic cohorts, between 1993 and 2004. Previous research also shows that attitudes towards alcohol are influenced by demographic and consumption variables, with women, older people and non-alcohol users typically favouring restrictive measures more than men, young people and alcohol users.
Alcohol use has changed substantially since the last comprehensive analysis of trends in attitudes. Per-capita consumption fell by 8.9% between 2010 and 2019.
An increasing number of Australians are abstaining from alcohol and consumption rates among those who do consume alcohol are decreasing. These trends have been primarily driven by large declines in alcohol use among young people.
This paper uses data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, a repeated cross-sectional national population study of alcohol and other drug use conducted every 3 years in Australia.
Only data for respondents aged 18 and over were included, to concentrate on participants who are at voting and legal alcohol use age. Data were obtained from the last six waves of the survey (2004, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019).
Sixteen items in the 2019 NDSHS addressed the respondent’s attitudes towards alcohol policies (see Table 1). Each question started with ‘To reduce the problems associated with excessive alcohol use, to what extent would you support or oppose…?’
Responses were answered on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly oppose) to 5 (strongly support) with 3 representing a neutral response (neither support nor oppose).
Examples of questions asked on “Controlling accessibility”
|Policy solution for “controlling accessibility”||2004||2007||2010||2013||2016||2019|
|Increasing the price of alcohol||2.55||2.67||2.76||2.78||2.79||2.68|
|Reduce the number of outlets that sell alcohol||2.89||2.99||3.04||3.08||3.03||2.92|
|Reducing trading hours for all pubs and clubs||2.91||3.10||3.32||3.33||3.10||2.87|
|Raising the legal age for alcohol consumption||3.20||3.36||3.44||3.36||3.21||3.10|
|Limit late-night trading of alcohol||3.52||3.69||3.82||3.83||3.59||3.41|
|Increasing the tax on alcohol products to pay for health, education, and the cost of treating alcohol-related problems||3.04||3.11||3.15||3.17||3.21||3.09|
Results and conclusions
After an increase from 2004 to 2013, support for more evidence-based policies on alcohol (e.g., limiting the availability of alcohol) has decreased in Australia since 2013. Support for policy items that focus more on education remained relatively stable in comparison. While demographic groups continue to vary in their extent of support, shifts appear to be occurring uniformly across sex, age, states and levels of alcohol use.
Researcher note that these changes in support were not major, but instead minor shifts in attitudes that reflected an overall decrease across the population.
The paper discusses the fact that these changes occur in a time when alcohol consumption is decreasing in Australia, with more people also abstaining from alcohol use. There is generally a strong link between attitudes towards alcohol policies and consumption level (with those who consume less alcohol more likely to support alcohol policies), so it might be expected that a decrease in alcohol consumption would lead to stronger support.
However, the results of this study suggest that this is not happening:
- consumption has decreased without a corresponding increase in support for policy.
In contrast, some scholars argue that support for restrictions increase as consumption and harms increase and become more visible (and vice versa).
The findings of this study are broadly in line with this theory.
Researchers also note that the decrease in support could also be in response to the introduction of a series of high-profile alcohol policies, such as the Sydney lock-out laws and the Queensland reduction in trading hours, which have been widely published in the media, often negatively.
- A content analysis of the media representation of the Sydney lock-out laws found that those who were against the laws were more frequently quoted and mentioned by the media compared with those who were supportive or neutral.
After a period of stagnation, alcohol policy in Australia has received increased attention in the past decade, with Sydney’s lockout laws and Queensland’s restrictions on trading hours garnering media attention. This study will investigate any changing trends in support towards alcohol policy and identify any demographic-specific shifts.
Respondents from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (conducted every 3 years from 2004 to 2019) were asked to gauge their level of support for 16 alcohol policy items proposed to reduce the problems associated with excessive alcohol use. Mean levels of support for various policy options, as well as demographic predictors of support, were assessed.
After an increase from 2004 to 2013, support for more evidence-based policies on alcohol (e.g., limiting the availability of alcohol) has decreased since 2013. Support for policy items that focus less on the limits of the availability of alcohol and more on education remained relatively stable in comparison. While demographic groups continue to vary in their extent of support, shifts appear to be occurring fairly uniformly across sex, age, states and drinking groups.
Discussion and Conclusions
Support for public health-oriented alcohol policies has been decreasing since 2013. The introduction of high-profile policies and less of a media focus on alcohol may be contributing to decreases in support.