August 19, 2020 | By Craig Kafura, Brendan Helm, Giulia Shaughnessy, Charlie Rahr, Samantha Yi

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: August 19

This week the world passed the 22.1 million case mark, with over 781,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19. As new infections have begun to rise in certain nations, reopening plans have been halted in order to stem the severity of the outbreaks. In the United States, debates about how to safely reopen schools continue as many students return to the classroom.

The Council survey team is providing updates every other week on public opinion around the world on the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, the Chicago Council Survey team’s update includes polling results from the United States, Japan, South Korea, Canada, France, the UK, Italy, and Israel.

Key Findings

  • In the United States, eight in 10 Democrats (83%) say it is a bad idea to send students back to school, while 75 percent of Republicans say it is a good idea.
  • Only 38 percent of Japanese approve of the government’s response to the coronavirus, down from 50 percent in May.
  • As the future remains uncertain and many Londoners feel unsafe performing day-to-day tasks like shopping for groceries (50%), one-third (33%) of London residents are considering moving away from London permanently.
  • Nearly eight in 10 residents of Atlantic Canada (77%) noted that they oppose opening up the travel corridor—the Atlantic Travel Bubble—to residents of other Canadian provinces. Nearly all Atlantic Canadians (95%) oppose opening up the border with the United States.
  • A plurality of Israelis (45%) see President Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic as either “poor” or “not good.”
  • Italians are pessimistic about the future of the Italian economy, with nearly half (46%) saying they think this recession will be worse than the one in 2008, and 40 percent stating they would currently not be able to pay for an unexpected expense of 800€.


United States

5.4 million+ cases, 171,800 deaths

The pandemic is personal. According to an Axios/Ipsos poll conducted August 7-10, half of Americans (50%) now know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, up from 41 percent last month. As the number of Americans who personally know a COVID-positive person has grown, the racial gap has shrunk; today, similar proportions of whites (51%), Blacks (47%), and Hispanics (47%) all know someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. However, the disease is not equally lethal. A third of Blacks (35%) and a quarter of Hispanics (28%) know someone who has died from COVID-19, compared to 16 percent of whites.

Judging by the state of other nations, it did not have to be this way. An August 6-10 Monmouth University poll finds Americans looking abroad (perhaps, at some of the other countries in this roundup) and envying their good fortune: a majority of Americans (52%) think the United States is handling the pandemic worse than other countries, while just 15 percent say it is a doing a better job than others (and 29% say it is doing about the same). The public also is not confident that the country will be able to get the pandemic under control anytime soon: only 38 percent are confident that will happen, while 61 percent say they are not too or not at all confident in the nation’s ability to limit the outbreak’s impact. Some of the blame is directed at the federal government’s efforts, which the public says have not gone far enough (58%). A majority (57%) also says that President Trump has done a bad job of dealing with the outbreak. And the public is also self-critical: six in 10 (62%) say the American public has done a bad job.

A consequence of this poor handling is a crisis for the American educational system. Many states are holding classes only online (with the expected disparities this produces), while some colleges have reopened and quickly discovered that having large numbers of people in small spaces during a pandemic leads to outbreaks. (Students, notably, are not happy.) An NPR/PBS/Marist Poll fielded August 3-11 finds that a majority of Americans (55%) say it is a bad idea to have students return to school, but Republicans and Democrats disagree sharply on this. Eight in 10 Democrats (83%) say it is a bad idea to send students back to school, while 75 percent of Republicans say it is a good idea.

One policy to combat the pandemic that does get broad support: a mask mandate. NPR/PBS/Marist finds that three-quarters of Americans (74%) favor a national mandate requiring people to wear a mask in public places, a measure backed by nearly all Democrats (94%) as well as three-quarters of Independents (73%) and a majority of Republicans (57%). Thirty-five states currently have mandatory mask laws; Democratic nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have called for the remaining governors to mandate mask-wearing, and President Trump has told Americans that wearing masks is the “patriotic thing to do.”


58,200 cases, 1,100 deaths

Abe Shinzo, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, is in trouble. His approval ratings with the public have fallen to some of their lowest levels in his long tenure, with NHK polls finding that 34 percent of the public support the Abe cabinet, while 47 percent do not. And. And some worry that the health problems that accompanied his first fall from the post in 2007 have returned.

The problem confronting Abe currently is not a political scandal, as in his previous approval downturns, but the pandemic and its economic effects. According to an NHK poll conducted August 8-10, nearly all Japanese are worried about the coronavirus, with 40 percent saying they are very concerned, and another 47 percent somewhat concerned. And a quarter of Japanese (24%) say their household income has declined due to the spread of the coronavirus.

But the public is not enthusiastic about the government’s response. Only 38 percent give the government’s coronavirus response positive marks, down from 50 percent in July and a new low in NHK polls dating back to May. A majority (57%) say the government should issue a second state of emergency declaration.

The Obon holiday, one of Japan’s three major travel events of the year, is also running into pandemic problems. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike asked Tokyo residents to avoid travel amid rising case counts in the capital. Three-quarters of the public (75%) said they were not planning to travel or visit their hometowns this summer; more said they were still deciding (14%) than said they had done so already (8%). That lack of travel will further hurt a Japanese economy already suffering from the absence of tourists. The “Go To Travel” campaign, which aimed to boost domestic tourism in place of foreign visitors, has not been received well: six in 10 (62%) say the program should be temporarily suspended, including a majority (53%) of LDP supporters.

South Korea

16,058 cases, 306 deaths

As of August 17, 2020, South Korea has reported 16,508 cases nationwide with 306 deaths. As South Korea faces new outbreaks, the Moon administration’s approval ratings have slipped from earlier highs.

In a poll conducted mid-August, 39 percent approved of President Moon’s job performance—down from a high of 71 percent in early May—with 53 percent rating his performance negatively. His handling of the coronavirus continues to be the top reason why people approve of his job performance with 24 percent citing it. However, serious challenges revolving around real estate policy are now dominating the news cycle, and 35 percent cite it as the reason they disapprove.

Coronavirus continues to have a major impact on the daily lives of Koreans. Despite being well-handled relative to other countries, 33 percent continue to say they are very concerned about contracting the virus, and 40 percent are somewhat concerned. Just 8 percent say they are not concerned at all.

Cases in Korea have jumped recently, with 197 new cases reported on August 17. Unlike the recent past, in which new cases were primarily among those arriving in Korea, this increase is mostly driven by domestic cases which account for 188 of the 197 new infections. To combat this escalation, the government increased  social distancing precautions to Level 2 on its three-tier system.


123,000 cases, 9,000 deaths

On Sunday, Canada registered its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in weeks, with a total of 198 new infections. However, Canadian officials are still gearing up for additional waves of the virus that they believe may come later this year and last until January 2022. They are specifically planning for a large increase in cases this fall as well as a number of other increases occurring during this time frame, all of which have the potential to overrun the Canadian healthcare system.

Unlike the rest of Canada, the provinces of Atlantic Canada have employed a travel corridor to fight against the virus’ spread. These provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia implemented a travel corridor called the Atlantic Travel Bubble on July 3. This corridor allows residents of the provinces to travel freely between them without isolating upon arrival. A recent survey of Atlantic Canadians conducted by Narrative Research from August 5-9 shows that the vast majority (87%) are satisfied with the Atlantic Bubble. Moreover, nearly eight in 10 respondents (77%) noted that they oppose opening up the travel corridor to residents of other Canadian provinces. Of this 77 percent, 42 percent completely oppose the idea of opening up the bubble while 35 percent are mostly opposed. Atlantic Canadians are not only wary of opening their own provincial borders but are also wary of opening Canada’s border with the United States. Nearly all respondents (95%) express opposition to reopening the border during the next month.


219,000 cases, 30,400 deaths

Just a month after President Macron reshuffled his government and cabinet, new coronavirus cases in France have begun to rise. But for many French people, some of the new government officials are not familiar faces—in particular, the new Prime Minister, Jean Castex. According to a July 19 Redfield and Wilton survey, a plurality of French people have no opinion of him (39%) and prior to his nomination 74 percent had never heard of him. This stands in contrast to the former Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe, who maintains a relatively positive reputation (41% very positive or positive) relative to the government.

In fact, for President Macron in particular, public opinion is not in his favor. Majorities of French people say that he is not a strong leader (53%), that he does not tell the truth (62%), that he does not care about ‘people like me’ (67%), and that he cannot bring the French people together (58%). However, in terms of his diplomatic prowess, people have slightly more positive views; a majority says that he is someone who can work with foreign leaders (61%) and a plurality says that he stands up for the interests of France (44%). Despite these positive traits, a plurality of French people also say that he will not be tough on China (45%).

United Kingdom

320,200 cases, 41,300 deaths

Despite continued reopening efforts in Britain, an August 5-7 Redfield and Wilton poll of London residents reveals that many still do not feel safe partaking in everyday activities. Half or more of Londoners respond that they feel unsafe attending a sporting event (69%), going to the gym (65%), or shopping for groceries (50%). Of particular note, 53 percent say they feel unsafe eating inside at a restaurant or bar, a portentous sign for the UK’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, which would give diners a 50% discount when eating at participating restaurants.

Perhaps as a consequence of this perceived lack of safety, one-fifth of Londoners (18%) are away from their homes in London right now. Even more notable is the finding that one-third (33%) of London residents are considering moving away from London permanently, though just 19 percent say it is reasonably likely or nearly certain that they will move this year. As concerns about the virus persist and the timeline for a vaccine remains uncertain, it begs the question whether these Londoners will follow through with their plans.

However, a July 17-20 poll by Ipsos MORI and King’s College London asked UK residents about the future in the event that a vaccine cannot be found. In general, a majority of UK resident (69%) believe that life will not return to normal for 12 or more months, with 8 percent saying that life will never return to normal. And should it become clear that a vaccine or treatment cannot be produced in the next year or two, many are ready to accept changes to the status quo of daily life. Majorities say it would be completely acceptable or acceptable that employees be able to choose whether to work from home or in the office (86%), that stricter restrictions be imposed for local outbreaks (86%), and that no major sporting or cultural event take place in front of a live audience (68%).


254,600 cases, 35,400 deaths

As in many other European countries, the number new cases of the coronavirus in Italy is rising as a result of the restrictions that have been lifted by the Italian government in the past months. Those infected are overwhelmingly young people who have begun to meet in the newly reopened bars and clubs. In response to the increase in cases, some restrictions have been put back in place. Clubs were shut down on Monday, and a new regulation was put in place making the wearing of facemasks compulsory between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in public areas where gatherings are likely.

A major contributor to the worry of increased cases was the August 15 holiday Ferragosto, on which many Italians travel to see family or go out to clubs to celebrate with friends. An Istituto Ixè survey from August 15 shows that these fears were partially correct, with over half (54%) of Italians leaving their home to celebrate the holiday. Outside of this holiday, however, data shows that Italians are being careful with how they choose to spend their summer. An August 14 survey by Coldiretti/Ixè shows that, though travel is picking up, in August Italians were still 11 percent less likely to travel than last year. In addition, almost all (90%) of those who did choose to travel did not go abroad, and around 1 in 4 chose a vacation destination within their own region of residence.

The economic situation in Italy also continues to be a large source of worry for many Italians. A survey conducted in early August by Info Dati da CSA asked a sample of Italians about their predictions for the future of the government, the economy, and the virus. Data from this survey shows that almost half (46%) of Italians believe the current economic crisis will prove to be worse than that of 2008. When asked if they would be able to pay for an unexpected cost of 800€, 40 percent said they would not. Despite this, many Italians remain optimistic. When asked what the first emotion they feel when thinking about the many hurdles to come is, the most frequent answer (23%) was “hope”.


97,000 cases, 700 deaths

On Monday, Israel saw its highest number of coronavirus patients in serious condition since the start of the country’s outbreak. Out of the 862 people being treated in hospitals for the virus, 398 are in serious condition with 113 needing ventilators. There is also worry over rising infections in East Jerusalem, home to large numbers of the Palestinian minority. Last Thursday, 43 percent of tests conducted in this area were confirmed positive, making the positivity rate eleven times higher than the national rate. Health officials attribute this rise in cases to large public and familial gatherings, such as weddings, mass prayers, and celebrations for the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha. Others, such as activists in East Jerusalem, see the rise as stemming from a lack of cooperation between Jerusalem’s mayor and the area’s Palestinian authorities.

A recently released survey conducted from July 27-29 by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute registers low support for the government’s pandemic response. A plurality of those surveyed (45%) see President Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic as either “poor” or “not good.” Both Jews and Arabs see his handling as far from perfect as only 27 percent of Jews gave it a rating of “excellent” or “good” with 18 percent of Arabs rating it similarly. However, feelings are not so even among Arabs and Jews towards transferring the handling of the pandemic to the Defense Ministry and Israeli Defense Forces. Six in 10 (63%) Jews favor this transfer while three in 10 (32%) Arabs favor it.


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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