This article critically evaluates the relationship between public opinion polling and foreign affairs. It plots key trends in public opinion polls of Australian attitudes towards Indonesia from the 1940s to the present day. Despite variations in polling companies and questions, Australian attitudes to Indonesia appear surprisingly stable, especially since the 1970s. Reading across multiple polls over this period reveals that, both as a mass and among individuals, Australians held complex views in which positive appraisals of Indonesian people and culture co-existed with an underlying fear of Indonesia as a potential military threat. Yet rather than accepting these findings at face value, this article calls for nuanced scrutiny of the role played by polling companies and the media in the construction and representation of so-called “public” opinion. Sensitive to recent developments in the historiography of public opinion polling, it suggests that public opinion polls not only attempted to measure Australian attitudes towards Indonesia, but also helped construct Indonesia as an object of popular and political concern.
- Australia-Indonesia relations
- cultural history
- opinion polls
- popular opinion