April 15, 2020 | By Craig Kafura, Brendan Helm, Eliza Posner, Jack Benjamin

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: April 15 Update

As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, the world this week passed the 2 million case mark, with over 130,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 so far. In general, publics around the world are supportive of a range of policies designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and are more favorable towards governments, institutions, and individuals they see as promoting and enacting those policies. This week, the Chicago Council Survey team’s update on global public opinion includes polling results from the United States, Japan, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Italy and France, as well as a regional update from across the Middle East and North Africa. We will continue to provide weekly updates on public opinion around the world on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Findings

  • In the United States, Americans continue to be more favorably inclined towards state and local governments than the federal government.
  • In Japan, the state of emergency declaration enacted last week is welcomed by the public—but many feel it came too late and does not cover enough of the country.
  • As Emmanuel Macron extends France’s lockdown into mid-May, the French people say that they want such decisions to rest on criteria relating to health, not economic or social factors.
  • While many Britons feel that the government’s response has adapted well to changing scientific information, an increasing number also feel that the crisis will extend past June.
  • In Brazil, while President Bolsonaro has been largely dismissive of the threat of the coronavirus, Brazillians have rated regional governers' response as good or great.
  • The threat of coronavirus to countries in the Middle East and North Africa has been expanding rapidly as infections begin to rise although publics in the Gulf States believe the media has exaggerated the extent of the oubreak. 

 

United States

With much of the country under stay-at-home orders ordered by state governors, the United States is still struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Currently there are more than 600,000 reported cases nationwide, and the death toll is rising: more than 25,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States so far.

Americans continue to express a preference for health experts and local leaders over national political leaders in efforts to fight the coronavirus. As a Quinnipiac poll conducted April 2-6 shows, eight in ten (78%) approve of Dr. Fauci’s handling of the coronavirus response, and three-quarters (74%) approve of their state governor’s response. President Trump (46% approve/51% disapprove) and Congress (44% approve/46% disapprove) receive much lower ratings. Axios/Ipsos polling finds a similar pattern, with Americans more likely to trust state (65%) and local (69%) governments to look out for their best interests than the federal government (45%).

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the country, many Americans are feeling a personal impact. According to an April 3-7 Monmouth University survey, one in four Americans (26%) knows someone personally who has contracted the coronavirus, and half (50%) are very concerned about someone in their family becoming seriously ill. The personal economic impact is also severe: three in ten (31%) report that they or someone in their household—or both—have been laid off from work as a result of the outbreak.

The pandemic is also changing how Americans think about everyday activities, like grocery shopping. An April 10-13 Axios/Ipsos poll finds seven in ten Americans consider going to the grocery store a large or moderate risk to their health and wellbeing. Many Americans who are going out are doing so with additional protections: according to an April 9-10 Ipsos/USA Today poll, half of Americans (51%) say they have started wearing a face mask and/or gloves in public. But when Americans go to the grocery, they cannot always find what they want. Monmouth polling finds that a quarter of Americans (23%) have been unable to find toilet paper; other common problem items include hand sanitizer (16%), masks (10%), and cleaning supplies (10%). Some also report being unable to find fresh food (13%).

To stop the spread of the coronavirus, Ipsos/USA Today polling finds a majority of Americans support dramatic actions. Seven in ten overall (69%), including majorities across party lines, favor implementing a nationwide lockdown for the rest of April—though as the debate over re-opening the economy has highlighted, much of that authority lies with state governors. Other proposals with widespread support include mandatory quarantines on international travelers (81%) and a halt to all immigration from other countries (79%); so far, only self-quarantining has been ordered by the CDC for international travelers. Eight in ten (81%) also back expanded paid sick leave, something included in the most recent round of emergency relief bills. While only half (49%) favor a shutdown of domestic air travel, few Americans say they would feel comfortable traveling anytime soon: a majority say they would not be comfortable taking a personal trip in the next three months. That includes attending sporting events, as the Seton Hall Sports Poll (April 6-8) finds: seven in ten (72%) say they would not feel safe at all attending a sports game without a coronavirus vaccine, regardless of any social distancing measures implemented.

Japan

While avoiding the extensive outbreaks other nations have faced, Japan is grappling with a new wave of infections. The country has just passed the 8,000-case mark this week, with a total thus far of 173 deaths.

The state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Abe last week in response to the new outbreaks covers seven prefectures: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka. Governors of five of those prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, requested that many businesses close for the next month. Independently of Abe’s declaration, Hokkaido has declared its second state of emergency in the past three months after a new increase in COVID-19 cases.

In an April 8 survey fielded by the Mainichi Shimbun and the Social Survey Research Center, seven in ten Japanese (72%) favor the state of emergency declaration. But just as many see it as too little too late: seventy percent say that the emergency declaration came too late, and 58 percent say that the declaration’s coverage area should be expanded. The public is also pessimistic that the state of emergency will only last one month: three-quarters (77%) think that the declaration will not be able to be lifted on May 6 as planned.

While the state of emergency is aimed at promoting social distancing and reducing travel, many Japanese (86%) say they have already been minimizing how often they leave home or attend events. The challenge of the state of emergency will be to limit this further and shift workers to telework. The central government is aiming for a 70 percent reduction in commuters, though such a cut may be a challenge for many Japanese firms. Prefectures which have requested business closures also face questions about financial compensation for those shuttered businesses. While prefectural governors have yet to announce any plans to do so, the public supports a compensation plan: a Kyodo News poll finds eight in ten (82%) favoring direct compensation to businesses.

Italy

After a month of total lockdown, Italy has begun to reopen small stores in parts the country, though strict rules will remain about hygiene and the number of customers allowed. Although the lockdown will officially continue until at least May 3rd, the Italian government is reportedly working on a five-step plan to reopen the country, with phase two set to begin on May 4th. A poll by the Istituto Demopolis conducted from April 6th to April 7th found that 86 percent of Italians have a positive evaluation of the government’s restrictive measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 and 65 percent support the economic measure to support production.

Despite preliminary moves to open the nation, 90 percent of Italians are still concerned about the spread of the virus, down just three percent from April 1st. Asked in a Noto Sondaggi poll conducted on April 11th about the duration of the lockdown, 63 percent of Italians say an extension of the lockdown is the right thing to do compared to just 26 who say it would have been better to not prolong it.

While the public agrees on the extension of the lockdown, Prime Minister Giussepe Conte and political opposition leader Matteo Salvini have publicly disagreed over a deal with Euro Zone economies to aid weakened European nations. At a press conference on April 10th where Conte spoke about the deal, he raised his voice to accuse Salvini of spreading ‘falsehoods’ which ‘weaken [their] hand in the negotiations.’ For Italians, this outburst was inappropriate; 54 percent of Italians said that this was not good and that the Prime Minister was out of line.

France

On the evening of April 13th, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech to the French people in which he extended the national lockdown until at least May 11th and reaffirmed the other restrictions that were previously mandated by the government. However, Macron added that the economic aid offered by the government's partial unemployment program and the financing for businesses will be extended and ‘reinforced.’

In terms of the decision to extend the lockdown, a poll by Odoxa conducted from April 8th to 9th found that 60 percent say the decision should depend exclusively on health criteria even if there are heavy social and economic consequences. At the same time, 59 percent of French respondents believe that this economic and health crisis will not affect them personally but will have severe long-term effects on the entirety of society.

Strikingly, a majority of French people predict that society after the outbreak will be a different place; 61 percent say that our societies will not be able to function like before and our relationship with each other, the environment, growth, and globalization will change profoundly. In particular, 57 percent of the French public thinks that French businesses should bring their production back to France and rethink their societal responsibilities while 47 percent say that political powers will have to rethink the way they function in the short term and think more about things in the long-term.

United Kingdom

The National Health Service is planning to unveil an app that facilitates contact-tracing and alerts the user if they have been in close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19. Despite the potential life-saving capacity of this app, some are concerned about privacy as reports surface of a government memo which suggests that ministers will be allowed to ‘de-anonymize’ people if they deem it ‘proportionate.’ Notwithstanding these fears, a majority of British people strongly agree (14%) or tend to agree (44%) that the government’s plan has adapted well to the changing scientific information and situation, according to an Ipsos MORI poll fielded from April 1 to 3.

At the same time, about six in ten Brits strongly agree (29%) or tend to agree (33%) that the government acted too slowly to control the spread of the coronavirus. These opinions were recorded on April 3rd when there were around 38,000 cases and 4300 deaths; that number has since risen to 88,000 cases and 11,000 deaths as of April 13th.

While Boris Johnson is still recovering from his case of COVID-19, acting Prime Minister Dominic Raab has said that lockdown restrictions will not be eased this week as the country ‘has not yet passed the peak of the virus.’ Britons appear to be growing increasingly pessimistic about the duration of the crisis; an international Ipsos poll conducted from April 2 to 4 shows that just 27 percent of British adults strongly or somewhat agree that things will return to normal by June. This number has dropped significantly since early March when 49 percent of Britons strongly or somewhat agreed that things would be better by June.

Brazil

Brazil has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in South America, as total cases have surpassed 23,000 in recent days, and deaths are beginning to climb into the thousands. Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the threat, downplaying the severity of the virus by comparing it to the seasonal flu and routinely defying guidelines issued by his own health ministry.

Brazil’s governors, however, have pushed back on the President’s rhetoric, and the public has responded positively. According to an April 1-3 poll conducted by Datafolha, over half (58%) of Brazilians rated governors’ response to the pandemic as “great” or “good,” whereas just a third (33%) said the same of Bolsonaro. Instead, a plurality (39%) rated his response as “bad” or “terrible.”

Regional Update: Middle East and North Africa

On April 7, confirmed coronavirus cases in the Middle East surpassed 100,000. While the majority of the region’s cases are in Iran, which has recorded more than 73,300 infections, countries across the Middle East have taken drastic actions to reduce the spread of the virus. In Saudi Arabia, which has over 4,900 confirmed cases, the government has imposed a 24-hour lockdown on April 6 for residents in major cities and barred all movement in and out of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. On Sunday April 12th, the lockdown was extended indefinitely as the kingdom expects cases to rise significantly. In the United Arab Emirates, Dubai implemented two-week mandatory quarantine and expanded its “National Disinfection Program,” which sterilizes the city’s streets and parks.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, residents agree that the coronavirus is a significant threat to their countries. An Ipsos survey fielded March 27-30 finds that majorities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco believe that the virus poses a very high or high threat to their country. Concern is highest in Lebanon (87% very high or high threat) and lowest in Saudi Arabia (72% very high or high threat).

While majorities say the coronavirus threatens their countries, significantly fewer believe the virus is a threat to them personally. Egyptians and Emiratis feel the most threatened (61% and 60% very high or high threat respectively) and Jordanians and Lebanese are least concerned (49% and 47% very high or high threat respectively). However, the sense of threat is growing in some places; the percentage of individuals who say the virus poses a very high or high personal threat is up 8 points in Jordan and 7 points in the UAE from Ipsos polling conducted one week earlier. And, according to polling conducted by YouGov on April 7, 71 percent in Saudi Arabia and 68 percent in the UAE say they are “very” or “somewhat” scared they will contract COVID-19.

Although concern about the coronavirus is high, many in the Middle East remain suspicious of the media’s coverage of the pandemic, especially those in the Arab Gulf states. According to Ipsos polling, 58 percent in the UAE and 49 percent in Saudi Arabia strongly or somewhat agree that “the media has exaggerated the extent of the outbreak.”

 

 

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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