March 25, 2020 | By Karl Friedhoff, Brendan Helm, Craig Kafura

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: March 25 Update

The Chicago Council Survey team will continue to provide weekly updates on public opinion of the pandemic. This week, we have updates on public opinion in the United States, South Korea, Japan, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom.

Global Update: US

The United States has crossed the 50,000 case threshold, and large numbers of Americans are now living under shelter-in-place orders, with nonessential businesses shuttered and hospitals racing to stock essential equipment. According to a March 21-23 CBS News/YouGov survey, half of Americans (51%) describe the coronavirus outbreak as a crisis. And per Monmouth University polling conducted March 18-22, a majority of Americans (57%) name the coronavirus outbreak as the biggest concern facing their family right now, and seven in ten are either very (38%) or somewhat (32%) concerned that someone in their family could become seriously ill from the coronavirus.

But a majority of Americans (62%) are also very (25%) or somewhat (37%) confident that the country will be able to limit the impact of the outbreak over the next few weeks. And according to CBS News/YouGov polling most Americans remain optimistic that scientists will be able to find a vaccine or cure (82%), in their hospitals’ ability to handle an outbreak (65%), and in Americans' ability to do what's needed to stop the spread of the virus (59%).

Personal Impacts

In Monmouth polling, most Americans say the outbreak has had either a major (53%) or minor (32%) impact on their daily lives. Those impacts include not going out to stores and businesses as usual (66%), spending more time watching TV (57%), and working from home for the first time (20%). Worryingly, one-third of Americans (35%) report losing income due to work cutbacks or lost business. That fits with results of ABC News/Ipsos polling conducted March 18-19, which finds a notable rise in Americans reporting they are not currently employed (41%, up from 35% March 11-12)In the same poll, seven in ten (72%) report having canceled or postponed plans, including dinners (57%), vacations (35%), attending religious services (33%), and even voting in person (11%).

According to an Ipsos/Reuters poll from March 16-17, the coronavirus outbreak is also affecting most Americans’ daily routines in ways designed to prevent the spread of the virus. Half (51%) report avoiding physical contact with others, up from 18 percent who said the same in a March 2-3 survey. Six in ten (60%) are washing or disinfecting their hands more frequently, and nearly as many (56%) are avoiding large gatherings.

Judging the Response

Many of the efforts made to combat the pandemic are being made at the state level, with the result that the US response has taken notably different paths among the various states. Monmouth University finds that Americans are more likely to say their state governor has done a good job of handling the outbreak (72%, vs. 50% for President Trump). A majority (62%) also say their state’s measures have been appropriate (25% say not far enough), while for the federal government the public is split, with 47 percent saying federal actions have been appropriate and 45 percent saying they have not gone far enough.

The higher approval of measures implemented by state governments partly reflects a lower level of partisan polarization in views of state officials. While the public is split along partisan lines when evaluating President Trump’s handling of the crisis, views of governors’ responses is less partisan, and more positive. Overall, half of Americans say Trump has done a good job handling the outbreak, with Republicans (89%) far more upbeat than Independents (48%) or Democrats (19%). By contrast, Republican governors get high marks for handling the outbreak from Democrats (61%), and Democratic governors get similar approval numbers from Republicans (62%). However, a partisan divide persists on questions relating more directly to the coronavirus. Democrats are more likely to be concerned about contracting coronavirus (85%, vs. 58% of Republicans) and less confident the country will be able to contain the disease (41%, vs. 86% of Republicans).

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Global Update: Japan

Japan’s relatively low number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, despite seeing cases earlier than Europe and without imposing mass quarantines, has confounded international commentators. In now-iconic graphs of international COVID-19 case numbers, Japan, along with Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea, show notably different trends than other countries. In some cases, local actions—such as that of Yuasa city in Wakayama prefecture—have married aggressive testing to contact tracing to prevent the disease from spreading. But experts remain concerned that Japan has yet to see the worst of COVID-19. The public feels similarly: despite Japan’s success in fighting the disease thus far, an Asahi TV poll conducted March 21-22 finds 55 percent of Japanese believe the novel coronavirus will spread throughout Japan in the future, while one-third (34%) think it will subside.

Overall, public support for the Japanese government's response to the pandemic is positive, with a Yomiuri Shimbun poll from March 20-22 finding 53 percent of Japanese approving. One such action was an early end to the school year for elementary, middle, and high school students across the country. Two-thirds (64%) say it was the appropriate response, but even more (73%) agree with the Abe administration’s decision not to extend that closure beyond the spring break, setting schools on schedule to reopen for the next academic year in April.

While schools are reopening, large-scale events remain canceled, with the most recent cancellation being the Japan Rugby Top League. Seasonal events are also threatened. Though the famous cherry blossom blooms have arrived in Tokyo earlier than ever before, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has discouraged large cherry-blossom viewing parties, a staple of Japanese springtime. While crowds are still showing up, nearly nine in ten (87%) say the cancellation or postponement of large-scale events is necessary, and eight in ten (81%) say they are taking steps to contracting the coronavirus, such as not going out excessively, not gathering in groups, and avoiding physical contact. One thing Japanese aren’t doing is stocking up on toilet paper, as many in the US have done: only eight percent report stocking up on toilet paper and other household essentials.

The largest-scale event planned for Tokyo is, of course, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Less than two weeks ago, Japanese Prime Minister Abe insisted that Japan would host the Olympics as planned. But the escalating global pandemic and announcements from Canada and Australia that they would not send athletes to the games put that commitment in doubt. Abe told the Diet Monday that “when it comes to hosting the 2020 Games, I don’t believe the world is in any condition to do so at this time.” And Tuesday, Abe and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced that the Games will be postponed no later than the summer of 2021.

It may be a hard choice for Abe, but it’s a popular decision among the Japanese public. According to a March 20-22 Yomiuri Shimbun poll, 69 percent of the Japanese public favors postposing the Games; only 17 percent want to continue as planned, and even fewer (8%) want to cancel the Games altogether. Asahi TV’s survey finds a similar result, with three-quarters of Japanese (74%) favoring postponement.

While the Games may not be held on time, the Olympic Flame will remain in Japan until they are opened. Here’s hoping we’ll be able to celebrate a global ‘Recovery Olympics’ next summer.

Global Update: South Korea

South Korea appears to have turned a corner in its battle against coronavirus. On March 23, the country reported the fewest number of new cases in a 24-hour period since new infections reached their highest point a few weeks ago. Its testing has been hailed as a model for other countries and it is now beginning to export the test kits developed by private companies.

Amidst this, Moon Jae-in's approval rates remain steady at 49 percent—unchanged from the previous week—in Gallup Korea polling conducted from March 17 to 19. His administration’s response to coronavirus remains the issue which respondents cite as being most important for their approval or disapproval, but those numbers have shifted significantly. Now, 54 percent say his handling of COVID-19 is the reason they approve of his job performance, a 10-percentage point increase from last week. Thirty percent cite his handling of COVID-19 as the reason for disapproval, a decrease of 7-percentage points from a week ago.

Even as the number of new cases has declined, there has yet to be a significant decline in concern about contracting the virus. Seven in ten (71%) say they are concerned about contracting the virus, but there has been a shift in intensity. For the first time in four weeks a larger number say they are somewhat concerned (37%) about contracting the virus than say they are very concerned (34%). Half (50%) continue to say it is very likely (11%) or somewhat likely (39%) they will contract the virus.

Global Update: Italy

While Italy still has the largest number of deaths by a wide margin, they have reported two days of decreasing hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Italian officials are hoping that by March, 28, it will be clear whether the national quarantine is working as they hope. In the meantime, health officials have rolled out a hashtag–#iorestoacasa, or ‘I stay at home’ in English–to encourage people to continue self-quarantining in order to limit the further spread of the virus.

Despite some early signs of declining spread, an Ipsos poll from March 17 to 19 shows that a rapidly increasing number of Italians say that the coronavirus is a threat to the world, their country, their local community, and them personally. For example, Italians’ sense that the virus is a threat to Italy has risen from 24 percent when first asked in February 2 to 90 percent.

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While 36 percent say the crisis has reached its peak, 55 percent say that the worst is yet to come. Despite this, Italians’ perception of their government’s efforts to control the spread have been increasing; now, 61 percent say the Italian government has been effective in controlling the spread, up from 49 percent on March 12.

Notably, there has been a similar movement among Italian perception of Chinese efforts. Sixty-three percent of Italians say the Chinese government has been effective in controlling the spread, up from 24 percent on February 24. As Italy has seen one of the worst outbreaks and mortality rates in the world, their European neighbors have ignored Italy’s calls for help while China has become Italy’s main lifeline, providing both medical supplies and experts to support their strained healthcare system. Nevertheless, some observers note that China’s emergency aid as trying to distract from their initial suppression of information related to the virus, an act which likely contributed to the global spread of the disease.

Global Update: France

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout France, a political scandal has shaken the people’s confidence in the government. Former Minister of Health, Agnes Buzyn, resigned from her post in mid-February to run for mayor of Paris in March, even though she was aware of the impending danger of the coronavirus. After French President Emmanuel Macron postponed the second round of municipal elections on March 16, Buzyn gave an interview to Le Monde admitting her knowledge of the crisis and saying that ‘we should have stopped everything, it was a masquerade.’ By shirking actions as Minister of Health, she potentially worsened the current crisis by not taking early and decisive action. In a survey of 1,005 French adults conducted March 18 to 19, 62 percent said the news of this scandal eroded their confidence in the government and two-thirds say Buzyn should not have run for mayor if she thought the elections were a masquerade (66%).

Beyond this development, French people were asked about Emmanuel Macron’s March 16 speech where he outlined new measures the government was taking to contain the virus. With regard to the order to shelter in place, 96 percent say that this is a good measure, but 85 percent say it should have happened sooner. Asked whether he was right to postpone the second round of municipal elections by three months, 94 percent said yes; and asked whether he took stock of the gravity of the situation, 82 percent said yes. However, asked whether his speech reassured them, 63 percent said it did not.

 

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Global Update: UK

The British government has decided to take a further step toward containing the virus as Boris Johnson announced on March 23 the closure of all non-essential businesses as well as a stay at home order. A YouGov poll fielded after this news broke found that 76 percent of British people strongly support this measure and 17 percent somewhat support it. Prior to this, while some measures had been put in place to encourage distancing and reduce the spread of the virus. Butreports detailed that the London Underground train system had continued to be inundated with commuters even as train and bus circulation had been reduced.

An Ipsos poll conducted March 13 to 16 of 1,003 British adults has revealed generational differences in opinion around the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Overall 49 percent say that Downing Street has performed either very or fairly well, 35 percent say they have done very or fairly badly and another 13 percent said neither well nor badly. But younger Brits are more critical than others. Broken down by age, 56 percent of those aged 18 to 34 say the government is doing a very or fairly bad job.

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Meanwhile in Parliament, MPs are debating a Coronavirus Bill, which would give the government wide-ranging powers, including the closing of ports and the ability of ministers to prohibit events and close premises. As this bill is set to be in effect for two years, some are concerned that the powers enshrined in this legislation afford the government too much power. However, the British public may want the government to enforce stricter rules; asked about the measures that the government had taken as of March 13 to 16, 50 percent said that the measures taken have not been enough and more should be done.

For More Information

Previous Running Numbers posts on the global opinion of the COVID-19 pandemic include:

For the latest information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, please visit their website.

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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