Scenes from March in March rally in front of Parliament House in Canberra. Click for more photos

March In March Canberra

Scenes from March in March rally in front of Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

A well-educated GetUp member concerned about asylum seekers, the environment and the behaviour of Tony Abbott - meet the average March in March protester.

Tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrations across Australia to protest a grab bag of issues mid-last month, generally united by a dislike of the policies of the Coalition government.

Researchers from the University of Canberra's ANZSOG Institute for Governance used Facebook to survey more than 1020 people who attended the marches to find out who they were and why they decided to attend.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Michael Jensen, an expert on social movements and political participation, said those associated with March in March may have been disillusioned with formal political parties.

When presented with a list of reasons for attending and asked to select those which applied to them, more than 85 per cent of protesters chose the treatment of asylum seekers.

Dr Jensen said the same proportion chose environmental concerns as one of their reasons for being involved in March in March, with “the behaviour of Tony Abbott” the third most commonly chosen response.

“It wasn't a specific policy issue, but something about his style, his way of interacting and presenting himself to the Australian public,” he said.

Dr Jensen he was surprised to find Getup was the most common political association held by the surveyed protesters, with more than 37 per cent as identifying as members, even though the event was not arranged or promoted by the activist organisation.

Just 11 per cent were the member of a political party, while 15 per cent were members of a trade union.

Dr Jensen said given the protests was directed against the government, traditionally the main opposition party or a formal left of centre political group would have a significant, vocal role in their organising, but in this case they did not.

“There does seem to be a particular segment of the population that Getup represents in some way, even if they don't officially organise them, that's perhaps not represented by any of the parties either,” he said.

Dr Jensen said while the treatment of asylum seekers was an issue commonly spoken about in Australia, but both major parties were united in presenting strong policies on offshore processing and insisting refugees had no guarantee of being settled in Australia.

“It may be the case that [protesters] don't see an avenue for their interests being articulated in the major parties, either in the opposition or the government, so perhaps they feel they need to mobilise by other means that do not depend on some formal organisational structure to get their views out there,” he said

Protesters were also more educated than the general population, more than half had a bachelor degree or higher, the survey found.