Meet Jack Outback, the ‘most interesting’ Australian revealed by new global research
Lead researcher says even though persona was refined and the name dropped throughout the study, he would still like to meet him for a beer
Meet Jack Outback, the Australian who continues to intrigue Dutch political scientist Andre Krouwel months after they first met.
Krouwel is the pioneering data scientist behind Election Compass, an online political sentiment tool used in more than 40 countries worldwide.
He is also the lead researcher on the Political Persona Project - one of the most comprehensive attempts ever made to profile different types of Australians based on their lifestyles, social values and politics.
The project was done in conjunction with Fairfax Media and the Australian National University.
“The Jack Outback was the most interesting [profile]...I would like to meet him, to talk and have a beer,” says Krouwel, Associate Professor of Comparative Politics and Communication at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
“I’ve never been to Australia. I’ve never met a Jack Outback. But I see him in the data.”
Jack Outback was one of the original “personas” or profiles revealed by the research - a sort of typological ancestor to what ended up as seven final profiles. Although the persona was refined in subsequent analyses and the name dropped, Jack Outback continues to fascinate Krouwel.
Deeply anti-government, as well as anti-globalisation, anti-redistribution, anti-immigration and anti-climate action, this type of Australian is more likely to be male, older (the average age is 55), less likely to be university-educated and most likely to vote Liberal (77-82 per cent said they supported the Liberal Party), according to the project’s methodology paper.
“They’re nativist-nationalist. They love Australia. They love particularly the nature of Australia but the funny thing is they might not necessarily like the native population,” Krouwel says.
“He would probably say the country was full, even though he lives in the middle of nowhere.”
People in this group, which most closely aligns with the final Anti-establishment Firebrand persona, are also far more likely than other groups to listen to country music and to find John Howard, Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump appealing, the research found.
For Krouwel, Jack Outback is striking because he thinks so differently to many of the other personas that Krouwel has “met” through his work.
“We don’t have [this type of person] in the Netherlands because we don’t have this vast outdoors where you don’t need to consult with anybody else,” Krouwel says.
“We can’t just sit there in the wild and say, ‘I don’t care about anything else and I don’t need a government’, because you will die.
“But you can do that in Australia.”
These national idiosyncrasies are exactly the kind of insights Krouwel and his team set out to explore through painstaking analysis of more than 330,000 responses to questions spanning an enormous range of topics, from friendship and family, to spending habits, technology, national security, civil rights, political leadership and moral values.
“The difference between this project and all the others we’ve done is that usually we focus on the political,” Krouwel says.
“This project also tried to grasp a very wide range of social and lifestyle attitudes in order to profile Australians, so this would probably be one of the most extensive attempts to make coherent statements about what types of Australians are out there.”
Beginning with more than 1000 statements, the team worked with Australian academics to whittle the selection to just over 100, based on their relevance to Australia and how well the statements differentiated ways of thinking. They then asked more than 3300 Australians to rate their agreement or disagreement with each statement, from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”.
Next, using a statistical method called “cluster analysis”, the team paired these statements and analysed every possible combination to find the most common patterns of thinking. For example, do people with similar views on climate change have similar spending habits? Or does an interest in fitness tend to match up with a particular view on wealth redistribution?
“You pair items, not one by one, but like a million times in every different combination,” Krouwel said.
“So your computer keeps combining items for individuals and looking for similar patterns across these thousands of Australians. And you try and match up what are the most common combinations of attitudes.”
It is more than a litmus test of public opinion. This is about tracking the way we think and behave across the personal, social and political spheres.
“You’re not interested in an opinion on a single item but in how all these opinions form a coherent mindset,” Krouwel says.
Billions of calculations later, Krouwel and his team uncovered seven dominant patterns of thinking, some of which share attitudes on some topics, others of which are almost completely at odds.
The analysis also identified five topics that most divide Australians: redistribution of wealth, climate change, immigration/multiculturalism, traditionalism/authoritarianism and consumerism/materialism. Most of the statements included in Fairfax Media’s interactive quiz relate to these topics because they best differentiate the seven mindsets.
ANU researchers then tested a subset of the 101 statements with a nationally-representative sample of 2600 Australians, to ensure the results accurately reflected the wider population. The results from this second panel were used to weight the initial dataset to match the Australian population, and to further refine the final seven personas.
Krouwel describes the project as “a way to give people a mirror” but warns that even the clearest reflection only shows part of the person.
“These are the seven most frequent combinations of opinions among Australians but...no person, or very few people, will resemble one single persona 100 per cent. And that’s logical because real people are not stereotypes,” he says.
“There’s much more of Australia out there that’s not in the data, so people shouldn’t get angry [with their result and] think, ‘That’s not me!’
“No, it is you on these dimensions. But there might be other dimensions of you that are not in the data because we didn’t ask those things.”
You can read the full methodology of the Political Persona Project here.