April 22, 2020 | By Craig Kafura, Brendan Helm, Karl Friedhoff, Jack Benjamin, Eliza Posner

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: April 22 Update

As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, the world this week passed the 2.3 million case mark, with over 160,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 so far. In general, publics around the world remain supportive of a range of policies designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including broad restrictions on personal movement. They are more favorable towards governments, institutions, and individuals they see as promoting and enacting those policies, and are critical of governments they see as being slow to implement public health measures. And while many are concerned about the economic impact of these restrictions, publics under lockdowns and other states of emergency only want to lift them when it is safe to do so, prioritizing disease control efforts over economic re-opening.

This week, the Chicago Council Survey team’s update on global public opinion includes polling results from the United States, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia. We will continue to provide weekly updates on public opinion around the world on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Findings

  • In South Korea, an effective response to the coronavirus outbreak led to a landslide victory for Moon Jae-in's party in the April 15 National Assembly elections. His party and its allies won 180 out of 300 seats.
  • Coronavirus cases are on the rise in Japan, and 53 percent now disapprove of the Abe administration’s response with 57 percent saying that Prime Minister Abe failed to show leadership in efforts to contain the outbreak.
  • In the United States, the public gives higher marks to state governors over the federal government and the president. They are also more apt to trust the Center for Disease Control and Dr. Fauci than the president as an information source on the virus.
  • Saudi Arabia is preparing for a socially-distanced Ramadan, with major holy sites closed to crowds in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. While Saudis are concerned about the economic impact of these efforts, they are also optimistic that things will return to normal by June.

 

United States

Nationally, the United States has flattened the curve, with new cases and deaths no longer growing as quickly as before. Yet they continue to rise, with the US surpassing 800,000 cases and 40,000 deaths this week, as some states grapple with rising infection rates.

Americans continue to rate governors more positively than President Trump or the federal government in response to the coronavirus. As an April 7-12 poll from the Pew Research Center shows, two-thirds (65%) say Donald Trump was too slow to take major steps to address the threat. Americans also give him, and the federal government, mixed reviews in his response to the crisis thus far. An April 14-19 survey by the University of Maryland and the Washington Post finds a majority of Americans rate President Trump’s response to the outbreak negatively, saying it was not so good (23%) or poor (31%). State governors are seen as having done a better job, with half (50%) rating their response as good, and 22 percent saying it has been excellent.

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The limited approval for the president is also a matter of trust. An April 13-15 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll among registered voters finds a majority (52%) also say they do not trust what the President has said about the coronavirus. By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (69%), their state’s governor (66%), and Anthony Fauci (60%) are all seen as trusted sources for coronavirus information. Americans are also rather dissatisfied with how the federal government has been dealing with coronavirus. They are divided (50/48) over the federal government’s implementation of measures to limit the spread of the virus; 62 percent are not satisfied with federal efforts to provide medical supplies and protective equipment to doctors and nurses; 64 percent are dissatisfied with federal efforts to provide testing. 

Echoing polling reported in previous roundups, the crisis is also putting serious strain on households. Per Washington Post-University of Maryland polling, half (50%) say the outbreak has caused financial hardship for them or others in their household. Among this half of Americans, seven in ten (69%) are concerned about being able to pay bills over the next month, and six in ten (61%) are concerned about being able to afford food and basic household items.

Still, that doesn’t mean Americans are pushing for a quick return to normal. While small protests in several states across the country garnered media attention and news headlines, Pew finds that most Americans are more concerned by the prospect of a quick lifting of restrictions. Two-thirds (66%) say their greater concern is that state governments will lift restrictions on public activity too quickly (vs 32% who are concerned they will not be lifted quickly enough). That includes eight in ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (81%), as well as half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (51%). And three-quarters of Americans (73%) say the worst is still to come.

 

Japan

Two weeks ago, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency, spurred by a growing number of COVID-19 cases across the country, with particular concern over potential outbreaks in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. The number of cases and deaths continue to grow, albeit slowly, with Japan this week surpassing 11,000 cases and 280 deaths.

In response to this continued growth, the government expanded its state of emergency declaration on April 16 beyond the original seven prefectures to include the entire country. According to a new Mainichi Shimbun poll, conducted April 18-19, most Japanese (83%) think this expansion of the state of emergency is appropriate. However, an April 18-19 Asahi Shimbun poll finds that three-quarters (77%) think the government was too slow to enact the original state of emergency.

With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise nationwide, the government’s policies are coming under fire. The Asahi Shimbun finds that a majority of Japanese (53%) now disapprove of the Abe administration’s response to coronavirus, up from 41 percent in Asahi’s March 14-15 poll; one in three approve (33%), down from 41 percent. A similar majority (57%) say that Abe has failed to demonstrate leadership in the effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

In Mainichi polling, the public continues to disapprove (68%) of the government’s plan to send each household two cloth masks, a measure roundly criticized as an inadequate response to the crisis. But the government gets higher marks for its planned economic support measures. Half of Japanese (50%) say the plan to give each resident a ¥100,000 yen emergency payment is appropriate; two in ten (19%) say it is insufficient, and nine percent say it is too much.

Abe’s aim is to reduce person-to-person contact by 70 to 80 percent in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. However, the Japanese public was already practicing “self-restraint” and large events in Japan have been canceled for over a month. While Asahi polling finds that three-quarters (76%) are practicing self-restraint more than before the state of emergency declaration, just half (55%) say they think they will be able to reduce their person-to-person contact by the amount Abe seeks; 41 percent say they will not be able to. And as a result of the self-restraint in going out and the lack of public events, stress is also on the rise. Four in ten (40%) report feeling stress, up from one-third a month ago (33%), and a majority (58%) are anxious that their lives will be difficult as a result of the pandemic, up from 46 percent a month ago.

Canada

Canada has more than 38,000 cases as of Tuesday and agreed to extend border restrictions with the United States for an additional 30 days in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease. According to Justin Trudeau the country will remain on lockdown for ‘many more weeks.’

Canadians remain patient and understanding as they await the relaxation of social distancing and workplace restrictions. In Angus Reid’s latest public opinion survey conducted from April 15-17, more than three-quarters (77%) of Canadians say it is too soon to begin relaxing business closures and social distancing requirements. A plurality (46%) say they do not think current restrictions should be lifted until mid-May or June. Although concern for personally contracting the virus has fallen 12 points over the past two weeks from 73 percent to 61 percent, a majority of Canadians are still primarily concerned about spreading the virus to others (70%) as opposed to becoming sick themselves (30%).

Canadian attitudes toward government performance during the pandemic is positive. Eighty-five percent of Canadians say that their provincial premier and the public health officials in their province have done a good job handling the coronavirus, and 62 percent of Canadians say the same of Prime Minister Trudeau.

South Korea

South Korea held a National Assembly election on April 15, the world’s first major election since the outbreak of the coronavirus. In February, South Korea was home to the largest outbreak outside of China. On April 20, there were just 9 new cases reported. In the last two weeks, the Korea Center for Disease Control has stated that a majority of the cases reported were from people arriving from outside Korea. Moon Jae-in’s approval rate was buoyed by his administration’s successful response, rising from 42 percent approval in late February to 59 percent in the latest poll.

The success of Mr. Moon’s administration in handling COVID-19 also led to a landslide at the ballot box. Despite highly negative attitudes on the outlook for the economy outlook, his party and its allies took 180 of 300 seats, a victory unmatched in Korea’s democratic history. Moreover, the 66 percent turnout for a National Assembly election was the highest since 1992.

Italy

After a devastating two months for Italy, the number of active cases has declined for the first time and calls to reopen the economy are growing. The government’s ‘Phase 2’ plans to ease lockdown restrictions beginning on May 4—the details of this process are still unclear—but half of Italians (50%) say that this should only happen when there are no more risks to health. While restrictions on movement will probably be moderately eased following the lead of other European nations, the Italian border is likely to remain closed.

Regarding Italy’s relations with the European community, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has offered an apology to Italy, saying that ‘too many were not there...when Italy needed.’ While Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio praised her comments on social media and emphasized the need for European solidarity, the Italian public may not be so willing to forgive. An Ipsos poll conducted April 7-10 found that a majority of Italians have a dim view of the European Central Bank (56% negative) and a plurality have a negative view of the European Commission (44% negative) and the European Parliament (46% negative).

Moreover, a Tecnè poll fielded April 9-10 found that 42 percent of Italians say that Italy should leave the European Union, up from 26 percent in 2018, versus stay (44%, 65% in 2018). However, 16 percent of those who responded stay and 12 percent of those who responded leave say that they could change their opinion depending on whether the EU does anything concrete to combat the COVID-19 emergency.

France

French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe announced on Sunday that the government will reveal a plan to ease the lockdown at the end of the month while warning that life after confinement will not be the same as before. Last week, Emmanuel Macron announced that the lockdown would be extended until May 11. Moreover, Phillipe added that without an ‘effective, demonstrated and known’ treatment, nor with a vaccine ‘before mid-2021,' the French people would need to respect the measures of wearing masks, self-isolation, and virus testing.

The French people, according to an April 14 Odoxa poll, think that the lockdown extension is a very good (44%) or somewhat good (40%) idea. Moreover, the French think it is a good decision to keep their borders closed until further notice (92%), to cancel all festivals and sporting events until mid-July (86%), and to ask old and frail people to stay confined after May 11 (74%). At the same time, they think it is a good idea to reopen businesses—excluding restaurants and theaters—as of May 11 (69%).

In terms of the management of the virus, the French public expresses much more confidence in medical professionals than in government institutions. Asked about the confidence they have in certain actors to fight against the virus, respondents expressed more than 90 percent confidence (very + somewhat confident) in hospital personnel, nurses, general health personnel, and doctors, while they expressed less than 50 percent confidence (very + somewhat confident) in the minister of health and the government.

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United Kingdom

Hospitals in the United Kingdom are experiencing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and many healthcare workers are forced to care for infected patients with aprons instead of full-length coverings. In response, NHS Providers–the organization which represents the NHS trusts–have criticized the government for failing to secure shipments of PPE which have been delayed without explanation on several occasions.

Meanwhile, a YouGov survey of medical professionals in the UK conducted from April 2 to 7 found that just 14 percent of healthcare professionals say that they have a good supply of the correct PPE to protect workers from the coronavirus. Thirty-one percent say they do have the correct PPE but not enough of it and an additional 30 percent say they have less suitable PPE or none at all. Moreover, 77 percent of healthcare workers are very or somewhat concerned for their own health and 75 percent are very or somewhat concerned for the health of those they live with.

Despite issues relating to PPE and concerns among healthcare workers, an Ipsos poll conducted from April 10 to 13 finds that public confidence in the NHS to deal with those who are ill with the coronavirus continues to rise, with 78 percent of British respondents saying they are confident, up from around 60 percent in mid-March.

Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made headlines this week for joining an anti-lockdown protest despite the rapid growth of the coronavirus outbreak to over 40,000 cases and 2,500 deaths—the highest numbers in Latin America. The protest, which demanded an easing of social distancing restrictions in order to reopen the economy, also included provocateurs calling for the closure of Brazil’s Congress and Supreme Court in favor of a quasi-dictatorship. Though Bolsonaro was swiftly denounced for his attendance at this protest, the civil unrest underscores the threats to democracy during such politically and economically tumultuous times.

While still only a minority position, an anti-lockdown stance may be growing amongst the Brazilian population. An April 17 survey conducted by Datafolha shows that 68 percent of Brazilians support social distancing measures even if it harms the economy, down from 76 percent in an April 1-4 survey.

Ironically, nearly half (49%) believe that the general public is still not concerned enough about the threat of coronavirus. As Bolsonaro continues to refer to the virus as a “little flu,” his behavior may be driving public skepticism of social distancing measures.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, where confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 10,000 on April 20, officials have issued social-distancing guidelines for the holy month of Ramadan, which begins later this week. The kingdom extended its suspension of prayers in the Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque, the holiest places in Islam. The country’s grand mufti, the highest religious authority in the country, said that Ramadan’s special nightly prayers, usually performed in mosques, should be performed at home.

As the virus continues to spread in the kingdom, many Saudis are feeling a personal financial impact. According to an Ipsos survey conducted April 10-13, 70 percent of Saudis say the coronavirus poses a high or very high threat to their job or business. Similarly, a McKinsey and Company survey conducted April 3-6 finds that three-quarters of Saudis say their “personal/household finances” will be impacted for two or more months (up from 59% in the previous survey conducted March 23-26). Large majorities also say they are cutting back on spending (66%) and being “very careful” with how they spend their money (78%).

Despite their personal financial concerns, Saudis are optimistic about the kingdom’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. An APCO Worldwide survey fielded April 2-5 finds that 81 percent of Saudis say that the Saudi economy will recover quicker than other economies in the region. And 76 percent say that recent economic reforms in the kingdom mean the country is “better-placed to recover from the Coronavirus crisis.” Saudis also think the crisis will be over soon; Ipsos finds that 72 percent of Saudis strongly or somewhat agree that with the statement, “I expect things to return to normal by June.”

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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