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Meet the family - 'On Line Opinion' reader survey results

By Graham Young - posted Friday, 2 December 2005

What’s special and distinctive about our readership? (And if you’re reading this, then we’re talking about you as well as the 99,999 other individuals who read us in an average month). That’s the question we set out to ask with our Reader Survey, and 530 of you were kind and generous enough to tell us (and one of you got lucky and won the wine prize supplied by Seppelt). That’s a big sample size, and gives us a high degree of confidence in the results - although the prize might have caused an over-statement in the percentage of you who like a drink.

On the surface, and judged by those demographic criteria - age and gender - which are most commonly relied upon by commercial pollsters to ensure a representative sample, you’re representative of Australia as a group. Not too young, not too old, and fairly finely balanced between male and female. But On Line Opinion is a journal that prides itself on going below the surface, and that’s where the really interesting things lurk.

If you’re a reader of this journal and younger than 51 you’re most likely female. In fact, 34 per cent of the responses were from women in that age bracket, while only 22 per cent were from similarly aged men. The imbalance is redressed in the older groups, with more than twice as many readers over 61 being men (12 per cent) as women (5 per cent).


You’re also more likely to vote Green (26 per cent) than the population at large, and much less likely to vote Coalition (14 per cent). Labor voters are around the norm at 40 per cent. What’s more 5 per cent of you identify as Democrats, when we know Democrat voters in the general population are as rare as thylacines.

The preponderance of young women is partly explained by the fact that around 24 per cent of readers are involved in education as teachers or students, and this is much higher in the younger age groups. When you consider the subjects that On Line Opinion covers, and the gender balance in enrolments in those areas at university, then there has to be more women than men in the younger groups.

I’m speculating, but I suspect that men predominate in the older age groups partly because they might be likely to be still working and therefore have more easy access to computers and the ’net. For the oldest group the issue might be resistance to the technology from older women. This could be another area for research into the digital divide.

In general the 75 per cent of you who aren’t teachers or students have executive and professional jobs. Twelve per cent are involved in government, 6 per cent are health care workers, 6 per cent work in the social services, 5 per cent are in media and 3 per cent lawyers or judges. Another 9 per cent are retired.

You also earn much more than the average. While, according to the 2001 census, 74 per cent of the general population earns less than $45,000 per annum only 44 per cent of you do. Twenty-one per cent of you earn more than $75,000 compared to only 4 per cent in the census. Your incomes would be even higher if not for the number of students who form the largest group of those earning less than $45,000 p.a.

Another interesting fact is you are disproportionately more likely to live in Queensland and Canberra than the average Australian, and less likely to live in Victoria. In the case of Canberra this is a significant difference. Two per cent of Australians live in Canberra, but 6 per cent of our readers do. In the case of Queensland and Victoria it is huge. Queensland has 19.5 per cent of the Australian population, but 27 per cent of OLO readership. Victoria is almost the mirror reverse representing 25 per cent of the Australian population, but only 18 per cent of OLO’s.


I’ve known this for a while as it is consistent with previous surveys, and put it down to the fact we publish from Brisbane and get more media coverage in Queensland than anywhere else. Other data in the survey suggests that thesis could be wrong. We surveyed to see what newspapers you read, and what news websites you used. It turns out, while you might lean to the left, more than half of you (55 per cent) read The Australian. In fact, you are such hungry consumers of news that you regularly use approximately two-and-a-half newspapers. Top of your other preferred reads are the Sydney Morning Herald (43 per cent) and The Age (31 per cent). Nineteen per cent read The Financial Review and 18 per cent The Courier-Mail.

Run that last figure by me. Twenty five per cent of you live in Queensland, but only 18 per cent read The Courier. How does that work when 33 per cent of you live in New South Wales, but 43 per cent of you read the Sydney Morning Herald? Is the SMH doing superman impressions? Turns out that when you analyse broadsheets in terms of penetration of our readership in their key markets, you find that while 89 per cent of our Victorian readers read The Age and 87 per cent of our New South Wales readers read the SMH only 62 per cent of our Queensland readers read The Courier-Mail. Perhaps the real reason we are so popular in Queensland is that more Queenslanders are dissatisfied with their existing text news outlet than most other Australians and hit the ’net to redress the balance.

We also surveyed to see what you read in the small mag market and found very little cross-over between us and other more established names. The Monthly is obviously a publishing success - 14 per cent of you read it - but others such as Quadrant, Eureka Street, Dissent, Arena and Meanjin are in mostly low single digits. Interestingly Quadrant is the most popular of the tail - 6 per cent of you read it - followed by the others - down to 2 per cent for Meanjin. Couple the fact that Quadrant heads the list with the fact you favour The Australian, and then couple these facts with the fact both of these are right of centre, and it suggests you are interested in ideas that differ from your own. This is despite the fact you are less likely to identify as being a swinging voter than other Australians.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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