Although “evidence-based” policy is a goal for many, the realities of democratic politics dictate that most policy decisions also need to be acceptable to a majority of the voting population. This project seeks to understand the dynamics of public opinion regarding illicit drug policy in Australia.
By examining two case studies (the legal status of cannabis, and treatment for heroin dependence), this project aims to understand the factors that can influence public opinion. The first case study considers the possibility that policy decisions on cannabis use (decriminalisation) can ‘send a message’ about drug use. The second examines the role of the news media in influencing public opinion, regarding treatment options for heroin dependence.
The project involves secondary analysis of attitudinal data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey. In addition, a content analysis of news print media has been conducted. Analyses seek to determine relationships between attitudes and a number of explanatory factors, including media content, policy environment, and demographic factors.
Thesis submitted in May 2011
PhD Thesis: Matthew- Simmons, F.T. (2011) Public opinion, the media, and illicit drug policy. PhD Thesis, University of New South Wales.
This project provides an understanding of public opinion that is based upon the best available evidence; opinion surveys. It provides the most comprehensive review and analysis of public opinion data that has been undertaken in Australia on drug policy, to this point. Any discussion of public opinion should be based upon evidence where possible; however the project also demonstrates that any assumptions made about the general nature of public opinion, by extrapolating from one particular survey question, are likely to be problematic.