May 20, 2020 | By Craig Kafura, Karl Friedhoff, Brendan Helm, Jack Benjamin, Eliza Posner, Zach Lim

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: May 20

As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, the world this week passed the 4.8 million case mark, with over 320,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 so far. As some nations around the world slowly return to a more normal daily lifestyle, publics remain concerned about future outbreaks, and worry whether their fellow citizens are closely following public heath guidelines. In countries still trying to get the pandemic under control, the public remains focused on preventing the spread of disease.  

With the pandemic coming under greater control in some countries around the world, the Council survey team has moved to 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, Canada, South Korea, France, Italy, the UK, Brazil, and the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. 

Key Findings 

  • As Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte struggles with domestic debates on whether to accept the European Stability Mechanism loan, 76 percent of Italians are concerned about their economic situation.
  • Though Japan’s coronavirus situation continues to improve and the state of emergency is now lifted in much of the country, Prime Minister Abe’s approval ratings have fallen as the economy slides into recession.
  • France has begun to ease lockdown restrictions, opening some public spaces and allowing border transit in select circumstances, but 68 percent of French people believe there will be a second wave of the virus in the coming weeks and months. 
  • The British government aims to reopen schools on June 1 as the nation begins to resume normal activity, but 64 percent of Britons think that schools should remain fully closed until September. 
  • While oil prices are declining and threatening the finances of the Gulf States, the people of Saudi Arabia (61%), Qatar (67%), and the United Arab Emirates (63%) believe that their nations’ economies will rebound to normal levels in 2-3 months.  

United States 

Nationally, the United States has seen more than 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with more than 90,000 Americans dead as a result.  

CBS/YouGov polling from May 11-13 finds half of Americans (50%) say they have had to make a real sacrifice in the nation’s effort against the coronavirus outbreak. Among the half who said they had made sacrifices, examples include changes in lifestyle and personal freedoms (76%), financial sacrifices (55%), volunteering (20%), and the loss of a friend or loved one (14%). 

While increasing the testing capacity of the country has been a priority, ABC News/Ipsos polling from May 13-14 finds three-quarters of Americans (73%) say there are not currently enough coronavirus tests available in the United States.  

Partisanship is also playing a role in Americans’ attitudes towards the coronavirus and measures taken to contain it. As a May 8-10 HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, eight in ten Americans are concerned about the spread of coronavirus in the US (77%), though Democrats (71%) are far more likely to be very concerned than Republicans (28%). Eight in ten Americans (79%) say they are trying to stay home as much as possible, with Democrats (91%) slightly more likely to be staying home than Republicans (74%). And two-thirds of Americans (66%) say that the coronavirus outbreak will have a lasting effect on the United States, including majorities of Republicans (56%) and Democrats (79%).  

While most Americans (76%) indicate in a CBS/YouGov survey that the outbreak is a national problem, states are pursuing a variety of different policies—with some seeking to re-open businesses quickly and others maintaining shelter-in-place orders. HuffPost/YouGov polling finds about half of Americans (47%) say that where they live has about the right level of restrictions. One in four (24%) say there are not enough restrictions, and two in ten (21%) say there are too many restrictions.  

When asked about specific restrictions, few Americans (12%) think there should be no restrictions where they live. A plurality (46%) think there should be restrictions on some non-essential businesses and activities, but others should be allowed to re-open. Another three in ten (30%) say there should be restrictions shutting down all non-essential businesses and activities.  

All of this points to a basic level of concern among a public unready to go back to normal. As CNN’s May 7-10 survey finds, a majority of Americans continue to say they would not be comfortable returning to their regular routine today (58%, unchanged from a month ago at 60%). Among those uncomfortable returning to normal routines, a majority (61%) say the existence of a vaccine would make them feel much more comfortable resuming normal routines. However, a key part of a future vaccine program will be widespread willingness to receive the vaccines . And though a coronavirus vaccine is still far in the future, polling points to some problems ahead for public health officials: while two-thirds of Americans (66%) would seek vaccination if a vaccine was widely available at low cost, fully one-third (33%) say they would not try to get vaccinated.  

Japan 

Japan has seen just over 16,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 765 deaths as of May 18. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced last Thursday that the state of emergency, imposed with popular support last month , would be lifted in all but eight of the country’s 47 prefectures as new cases decline. The major cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, as well as hard-hit Hokkaido, remain under a state of emergency. This partial lifting garners more support than opposition. Asahi Shimbun’s May 16-17 poll finds that half of Japanese (51%) say they support the government’s decision to lift the state of emergency in 39 prefectures, while ANN polling conducted May 16-17 shows that 59 percent say lifting the state of emergency in 39 prefectures is appropriate.  

However, unlike in other countries that have seen rising support for leaders implementing measures to combat the pandemic, Abe’s approval rating has taken a serious hit. In polls released over the weekend support for the Abe cabinet dropped notably, with Asahi (33%, down from 41% last month) and ANN (33%, down from 40% last month) both seeing notable declines in cabinet support. NHK’s May 15-17 survey saw a similar support rate (37%, vs. 39% in April) but a sharp rise in opposition (45%, up from 38%).  

Part of these declines is down to the public’s perception of Abe’s handling of the crisis. Asahi: A majority (57%) say that Abe has not demonstrated leadership in his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. ANN: 57 percent disapprove of the Abe cabinet’s response to the coronavirus.  

But Abe is also dealing with two additional crises. The first is the political fallout from an unpopular public prosecutor’s office reform bill, pulled this week following widespread criticism. The second is the turn of the Japanese economy into recession, with experts predicting that worse economic news is likely to come.  

To combat the economic slowdown, the Abe government is exploring additional economic stimulus options. Even as it continues to generate political tensions, the government’s plan to give each resident of Japan a 100,000-yen cash payment is popular with the public: ANN polling finds that 60 percent see the policy as effective, and 55 percent say it is necessary.  

South Korea 

As South Korea re-opens its economy, public concern over the coronavirus continues to decline. Recent Gallup Korea polling shows 55 percent remain concerned about contracting the virus, the lowest mark since Gallup began asking the question.  

As the country transitions back to normalcy, the data demonstrate increasing confidence that public life is close to returning to something resembling the pre-virus state. In early April, just 3 percent reported they had not decreased attendance at events. That now stands at 23 percent. Half (53%) say they are now using public transportation versus 13 percent in early April. One-third (33%) now say they are buying groceries at supermarkets, up from 9 percent one month ago.  

Despite this growing optimism, a new outbreak linked to a popular nightlife area threatens a second wave. Thus far, the South Korean system has kicked into gear. There have been 170 new cases reported, and 65,000 have been tested thus far. 

Canada 

Coronavirus cases and deaths in Canada have eclipsed 80,000 and 6,000 respectively, and the elderly are bearing the brunt of the disease: more than four-fifths of deaths have come from nursing homes. At the same time, Canada has sought to extend travel and border restrictions with the US, but has taken small steps to ease social distancing measures domestically, such as allowing locked-down households to pair up

Among the public, Canadians appear resigned to the reality of an extended lockdown. According to Angus Reid’s latest May 4-6 survey, two-thirds (68%) of Canadians now say that it will be at least six months before normal life resumes, up from just 43 percent on April 4-6. However, quarantine fatigue still appears to be outweighed by anxiety. A large majority of Canadians (79%) remain very or moderately concerned that their friends or family could become sick – a stronger concern than for themselves (59%). 

Despite continuing and widespread concern, Canada’s financial aid programs created in response to the pandemic have been largely successful. While dire financial straits are still a major concern for many, outcomes appear to be better than expected. In March, a third (30%) of Canadians said they were worried about missing a rent or mortgage payment in the coming weeks. But in May, just 6 percent of homeowners and 13 percent of renters were unable to pay their mortgage or rent in full. It’s clear that lifting financial burdens has been massively helpful to Canadians as they remain compliant with social distancing practices. 

Italy 

After two months of being in lockdown, Italy entered Phase 2 of its plan to ease restrictions on movement, with restaurants and bars permitted to reopen on May 18. According to an Ipsos poll conducted May 12-14, a majority of Italians still feel that the virus is a threat to their country (76%) and the world (79%), while a smaller majority also believes that Italy should seek to reopen as soon as possible to avoid worsening the economic situation (54%). At the same time, over half of Italians (54%) say that Italians have not entirely understood the need to stay at home and are consequently violating safety measures. Like many other publics, it seems Italians are stuck between a desire to resume their normal lives and a fear of a return of the virus which has plagued their country. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte continues to work with the European Union to find a solution to the severe economic problems caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. While he initially proposed a system that would have European nations share debt, leaders in Germany and the Netherlands quickly rejected this idea and now Italy is debating whether to take a large loan from the European Stability Mechanism. While Italy has yet to make a decision, their economic situation is dire, with a 58.8% employment rate. The Italian people are deeply concerned: an Istituto Ixè survey found that 76 percent of Italians are seriously or moderately worried about their personal economic situation. 

France 

With 142,000 cases and 28,000 deaths, France began to take steps to open parts of their country on May 11. The French borders were opened for certain cases like child or elderly visitation, though general passage into France will remain closed for European nations until at least June 15. While much of France is seeing reduced levels of new infections, several counties in northeastern France are designated ‘red,’ meaning that the rate of new cases continues to rise, the intensive care units are still full, and the testing capacities are insufficient. 

Overall the public remains uneasy. A May 12-13 Elabe survey finds that 63 percent of respondents say that they are concerned about the beginning of deconfinement. Moreover, 78 percent say they are still concerned about the propagation of the virus in France and 68 percent say that they think there will be a second wave of the virus in the coming weeks and months. 

As the French people begin to venture back out into public, many have doubts that the public is respecting the public health guidelines. In an Odoxa survey conducted May 13-14, half of the French public (49%) say that the French as a whole are poorly respecting the safety measures mandated by the government. At the same time, 95 percent say they personally are respecting these measures, and in terms of French sentiment toward these rules, 95 percent support obligatory mask-wearing on public transportation. However, majorities of French people oppose the continued closure of beaches (57%) and parks (59%).  

In addition to concerns about the spread of the virus, a May 5-6 Odoxa survey finds that French people (34%) are much less likely than Italians (50%), Germans (60%), and Britons (63%) to say that their government is up to the task of handling the virus. Just one-quarter (25%) say that the government told the truth to its citizens and just 24 percent say that the government showed that it knew what it was doing. 

United Kingdom 

On Sunday May 17, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that some of the lockdown restrictions would be eased, allowing Britons to go out more frequently and return to work as long as proper social distancing measures can be respected. For those returning to work, Johnson recommended that they avoid public transportation and instead opt to bike, walk, or drive, a measure of which 83 percent of Britons approve. However, three-quarters (74%) believe businesses should be legally obligated to offer the option to work from home, if possible. 

In addition, the government plans to reopen schools on June 1, conditional upon diminishing infection rates and adequate safety capabilities. The push to reopen schools comes amid fears that the lack of schooling will prove damaging to children’s educations. However, 61 percent of Britons think that it will not be safe to reopen schools around June 1 and 64 percent agree that schools should remain fully closed until September. 

Beyond the reduced lockdown measures, Johnson has stated that he hopes to return to ‘near normal’ by July with the help of a £93 million vaccine center. However, in a Redfield and Wilton survey conducted May 15, 68 percent of Britons said they will not feel comfortable going outside in June or July. In fact, it is not until September that just half of British respondents feel confident about returning to normal (49%).  

Brazil 

The outbreak in Brazil has become increasingly dire and it now has the third highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, surpassing 257,000 confirmed cases and 17,000 deaths. Sao Paolo’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse, but President Jair Bolsonaro has continued to flout social distancing practices and oppose lockdown measures amid a fractured government response.  

According to a May 7-10 survey by the MDA Institute and the National Confederation of Transport, approval for Bolsonaro and his government has fallen from 48 percent in January to 39 percent now. An earlier April 27 survey conducted by Datafolha elaborated on the lack of approval, as Brazilians communicated little trust in their president – 38 percent of the population say they never trust Bolsonaro’s statements. 

Gulf States: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar 

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the global economy,  the Arab Gulf  states  continue to suffer. In  Saudi Arabia,  sharply declining oil prices  may threaten Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s  planned economic reforms, which  aim to  boost  the country’s  tourism  and  entertainment  sectors.  But with the ability to travel restricted and this year’s government  budget deficit  predicted to be around 9.4% of GDP, many of these plans  may be put on hold.  To deal with this new economic reality, the  Saudi government announced  on May  11  that it would  triple  the country’s value added tax from 5 to 15 percent and  eliminate a  1,000 riyal ($267) monthly payment to all state employees.  Experts  predict  that  the collapse in oil prices will  spark  similar economic  challenges  in  the other Arab Gulf  states.  

Despite warnings that the coronavirus could  severely disrupt  the  Gulf states’  economies,  April 24-29 polling by McKinsey  and Company in  Saudi Arabia, the  United Arab Emirates, and  Qatar  finds that publics remain  optimistic  about their countries’ futures.  Majorities in all three countries (67% of Qataris, 63% of Emiratis, and 61%  of Saudis) believe their countries’ economies will rebound in 2-3 months  and grow just as strong as before the pandemic.  And, in  both  Saudi Arabia  and the UAE,  the percentage  of  those  who say that COVID-19 will  have a lasting impact on the economy  has decreased from an earlier survey  conducted March 23-26 (down from 15% to 6% in the UAE and from 12% to 5% in Saudi Arabia).  

While they are unconcerned about their countries’ economies,  Qataris and Emiratis are very concerned about keeping their families safe.  In both countries,  fears about health were  individuals’ top concern;  67 percent of Qataris say they are extremely or very concerned about  the health of relatives in vulnerable populations  and  71 percent of Emiratis say they are  concerned about their personal and families’ safety.  Saudis were most  worried  about  coronavirus-related uncertainty, with  54 percent saying they were  concerned  about  “not knowing how long the situation will  last.”  In all three countries, individuals  were less worried about  their countries’ economies (53%  of  Emiratis,  37% of Qataris , and  36% of Saudis  extremely or very concerned) than health and safety concerns. 

While  Gulf  publics  remain confident in the overall health of their countries’ economies, they are worried about their personal finances.  Large majorities in all three countries  believe that the coronavirus will impact  their finances  for two or more months (92% of Emiratis, 91% of Saudis, and 88% of Qataris).  In Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the coronavirus  is  increasingly  impacting  individuals’  household finances.  63 percent of Saudis say their  household  income  has  decreased  slightly or a lot in the past two weeks (up from  49% in McKinsey’s  April 3-6  survey).  67  percent of  Emiratis said the same (up from 58%).  In Qatar, where earlier polling was not conducted,  a slightly smaller majority (58%) say their  household  income has declined.  

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

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: August 19

Nations around the world struggle to safely reopen as the coronavirus continues to infect thousands of people. This week's global public opinion update on the COVID-19 pandemic covers the United States, Japan, South Korea, Canada, France, the UK, Italy, and Israel.