Three out of every four Australians say their single biggest personal concern in 2023 is the rising cost of living, ahead of physical or mental health, employment or retirement issues.
But people living in regional Australia and the ACT are showing greater resilience than their counterparts in the five state capitals and say they are feeling more connected to their community and generally happier, less anxious and less stressed about the year ahead than those in metropolitan cities.
These are the key findings of ACM's latest Heartbeat of Australia research capturing the sentiment of Australians in 2023.
Young and old, in big cities and across the regions, thousands of Aussies have shared how they're feeling, what they're planning for the year ahead and what role community and news play in their daily life.
Produced by ACM's research unit Chi Squared in partnership with the University of Canberra, the second annual Heartbeat study draws on 6316 individual responses to a nationwide survey conducted online between March and May.
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Respondents included people living in rural areas, regional population centres and the ACT, readers and non-readers of ACM news websites and newspapers as well as metropolitan residents of the mainland state capitals: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
The survey paints an in-depth picture of the concerns and aspirations of the nation and offers fascinating insights on how we use news to stay informed and connected and how important a sense of community is in our daily lives. The key findings include:
ACM research director Alex Mihalovich said the results of the 2023 Heartbeat survey showed notable differences in sentiment across age and geographic segments.
"Cost of living and mental and physical health are the biggest concerns this year, which is not surprising given the current economic conditions," Mr Mihalovich said.
"Housing affordability is now the number one community concern, particularly for under-45s, and has overtaken last year's post-Covid concerns about public health."
Regional Australians generally felt happier and more positive about the future than people in the big capital cities.
"But the age gap continues to be wide, with under-45s much more likely than over-45s to have negative feelings, including loneliness, stress and anxiety," he said.
Feeling connected to your community was intrinsically linked to positive sentiment such as happiness and life satisfaction.
"Knowing what is going on in my community, shopping local and accessing news about my community are still the primary drivers for community well-being and connection," Mr Mihalovich said.
While the majority of Australians (83 per cent) say they feel satisfied with their life as a whole in 2023 - the same as last year - satisfaction with their standard of living has slipped (by 3 percentage points) and fewer people feel satisfied with their financial situation (69 per cent, down five points).
Compared to their metro counterparts and younger Australians, regional consumers and those aged over 45 continue to be more satisfied with their life.
Australians say the biggest challenge they face is the cost of living, with 75 per cent nominating it as their No. 1 personal concern. Rising energy costs is also a major concern (for 50% of all survey respondents), and more of an issue among older Australians (57 per cent) and those in the regions (53 per cent).
Younger people aged under 45 are more worried about their finances (36 per cent) than over-45s (21 per cent) while older people are more concerned about health (56 per cent) than under-45s (48 per cent).
Knowing what is going on in my community (78 per cent), shopping locally (76 per cent) and accessing news about my community (74 per cent) are the main factors helping people feel connected to their community. These primary drivers of our sense of community well-being rank higher among regional Australians and over-45s.
Social media remains the least trusted source of news, with 54 per cent of respondents indicating distrust for social media - up by 2 percentage points from 2022.
While more Australians (68 per cent) prefer reading news online than in print (32 per cent), local newspapers are the most trusted source (60 per cent), ahead of radio (47 per cent), national/metro papers (40 per cent) and TV (39 per cent). More people prefer "local news about my region" (69 per cent) over national news (64 per cent).
The majority of Australians have positive sentiments about the year ahead: 76 per cent say they feel happy, 74 per cent are content and 69 per cent are optimistic.
But 50 per cent say they're anxious about the future, with under-45s more likely than over-45s to say they have negative feelings, including loneliness, stress and anxiety.
The top plans people have for the next year are domestic travel (59 per cent, down 14 percentage points from 2022), overseas travel (35 per cent, up 6 points) and buying furniture (31 per cent, down 9 points). City dwellers and under-45s are more likely to be planning a trip overseas.