How balanced are Q+A studio audiences?

The numbers are in. In 2021 episodes on politics had slightly more Coalition than ALP audience members.

When Q+A returns to air tomorrow night there will be around 30 audience members in the studio as ABC continues to observe COVID-safe protocols.

While that’s well short of the preferred 250+, it’s bigger than some episodes last year which saw as few as 10 people in the audience -not ideal when your show relies on ‘town hall’ questions from the public.

Last year of 43 shows, 15 were without any studio audience, with the show relying on virtual questions.

To register as an audience member, individuals are asked for contact details and their voting preferences.

Executive Producer Erin Vincent said, “You’re not obliged to share that information but you’d be surprised at the number of people that do. Our intention and our processes strive to achieve a quarter of Coalition voters, a quarter of ALP voters, a quarter who declare that they’re Undecided, and a quarter who represent Greens / Other Parties / Independents / Students who are of non-voting age as well.”

ABC told TV Tonight that last year in episodes featuring politicians its studio audience breakdown comprised the following voting preferences:

Coalition – 26%
ALP – 23%
Undecided – 24%
Greens – 11%
Other – 16% (incl those under 18)

While answers are given on an ‘honesty basis’, the Q+A team does take steps to verify information, especially where individuals are selected to ask a question.

“We have pretty strict processes to make sure that people are who they say they are. We do ID checks when they come through the doors of our studios and we do background checks,” she continued.

“At the moment, it’s really the questions that get people invited, whereas in the past, we would have an audience register, and then they would all submit questions.

“But since we’ve moved to a smaller audience, it’s the strength of the question that is determining the audience.”

Sometimes, in order to maintain balance, producers will even bus in audience members.

“It’s one of the strategies that we adopt to make sure Q+A is accessible and relevant to audiences outside of our inner city studios. Obviously, that’s been even more important where we haven’t been able to travel the show,” said Vincent.

“So we do bus community groups in, we bus students in… we run buses from certain areas to make sure that people who aren’t able or willing to make the drive can still have the option of experiencing Q+A.”

This year the show is sticking with its rotation of hosts Virginia Trioli and David Speers (both Melbourne based) and Stan Grant (Sydney) on Thursday nights as it rebuilds its ratings.

Q+A averaged 568,000 metro + regional audiences, down on 2020 which, like all news programmes, experienced a spike due to the pandemic.

“We think that the Foreign Correspondent and Q+A combination on Thursday night is really creating another night of news and current affairs for the ABC. So we always knew it was going to be challenging, changing nights. Thursday nights are more competitive. But we are really heartened by the gains we’ve made since the middle of the year. We’re now nudging close to around the 300,000 metro average, and the national average, is 568,000, which we’re really pleased about,” she explained.

“The move to Thursday was always going to be a long-term strategy. Monday nights, our numbers were declining and we know that time slot is very much peak Streaming hour. So it is a long term move, but we’re feeling very encouraged by the gains we’ve made.”

2022 is also an election year for ABC with Q+A set to offer a major platform for voters to hear from candidates. While Scott Morrison hasn’t appeared since he was Shadow Immigration Minister in 2012, the door is always open.

“We love them all equally. We want to share the airtime among them,” Vincent says of politician guests.

“But it’s generally not more than twice in a year. We really do try and spread the voice, just for the different constituents and voters that they represent. No-one wants to hear from the same politician too many times!”

She adds, “We’re hopeful that 2022 can be a bit more of a normal year, and we can continue to keep the Q in Q+A.”

Q+A returns with Virginia Trioli 8:30pm Thursday on ABC.

9 Responses

  1. It kinda amuses me that as soon as there is an article on anything ABC, it feels like the “pre-written” stock standard criticisms emerge within the comments section. What I have noticed with Q&A are two points: 1. rotating hosts works for me….keeps it fresh; 2. When the topic is something less highly political (I know it’s an election year so inevitable this year most likely) like the nature of leadership show tonight, it’s far more stimulating viewing (and less partisan). To sum up part of tonight’s show (the parts on leadership at least): “authenticity is the name of the game….if you can fake that, you’ve got it made” (second part added by me). And Dylan Alcott continues to be a legend. Makes important points while maintaining good humor. Impressive.

  2. The producers email everyone to ask questions, however what is also included in the email are “sample questions/topics” which are basically the ones that get asked on the night

    This used to be a great show, but after Abbott got in, they decided to barrack for the left constantly.

    As noted by the occasional protests which are always by left groups, it’s easy to fudge your voting intentions, it’s just a tick in a box after all, not a sworn testimony

  3. Why have the greens been left out of the political siding? The Greens are considered to be further left of the political spectrum than Labor. They hold around 12% of seats in the senate and less than 1% in the house of reps. With 11% of audience waiting to the Greens on Q & A they easily have the biggest representation, based on seats held in parliament. This fact alone suggests a lack of audience ‘political balance’ on Q & A and a lean to the left of the political spectrum, i.e. the Greens.

  4. As a keen viewer of Q&A in the early days I enjoyed the banter and political knowledge that some of the guests could impart to the audience, Federal Politicians (from both sides of politics) became regulars on our screens, chosen because they had a degree of TV charisma. Unfortunately, eventually, this was not enough for the Q&A producers, they introduced viewer Tweets and trending political questions from specially invited partisan audience members, which Tony Jones tried hard to gain a headline from, some may disagree but for me this was not what this show was about, the early seasons focused on debate including from some guests who would not pass muster with the ABC nowadays, and that’s the way it should be, freedom of expression and opinion, not agendas. To my mind the standard went downhill from there.

  5. I agree with you Vince C.
    I’m not sure how anyone could watch Q and A and not consider the audience loaded left. The jeering and cheering is evidence enough. This pseudo intellectual program which is basically people barracking for their team and not listening to each other.
    Either side could be dishonest with this survey with the intent to load the audience .. the loud left side showing who is probably doing this.

    Also how do you load a left wing panel whilst still hiding behind the veil of balance
    Here’s a common panel:
    1) An intellectual well spoken Labor person.
    2) Choose an academic with a left leaning. but no formal political alliance.
    3) Perhaps a Green
    4)An entertainer, left leaning always but no formal political alliance.
    5) A conservative: ideally not that well spoken and perhaps a bit extreme.
    Then start the 4 to 1 pile on.
    There you have it a “balanced” panel because:One Labor one liberal.
    Pathetic that we are paying for it.

    1. Producers read every question that is submitted which are selected on the basis of merit and what will produce a balanced discussion. The ability to be in the studio in person is also a consideration but there are video questions from around the country.

    1. Can you give an example of the bias you are referring to? Most politics episodes have both Coalition / ALP politicians and we now have numbers on the studio audience. The rubbish survey you’re referring to is a questionnaire filled out by the audience themselves.

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