May 6, 2020 | By Craig Kafura, Brendan Helm, Jack Benjamin, Eliza Posner

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: May 6

As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, the world this week passed the 3.6 million case mark, with over 250,000 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. Publics under lockdowns and other states of emergency only want to lift the restrictions 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, Canada, France, Italy, Brazil, Israel, and Palestine. We will continue to provide weekly updates on public opinion around the world on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Findings

  • As part of an additional recovery package, eight in ten Americans (79%) favor including additional support for the State Department, USAID, and other agencies to fight the coronavirus globally.
  • Americans (23%) are nearly twice as likely as Canadians (12%) to support accelerating the pace of relaxing social distancing measures.
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) in France say the re-opening of schools on May 11 is a bad idea. Sixty percent say that this decision was made for economic reasons because the government needs childcare solutions so that parents can return to work.
  • Despite the Italian government’s move to ease the national lockdown, 63 percent of Italians think ‘Phase 2’ is not substantially different from the lockdown.
  • Nine in ten (93%) percent of Jewish Israelis and 77 percent of Arab Israelis say they “feel part of Israel and its problems.” This is a significant increase over past results. Between 2014 and 2019, the percent of Arab Israelis who felt part of Israel ranged from 35 percent to 62 percent, while the percent of Jewish Israelis who felt the same ranged from 83 percent to 87 percent.

United States

While much of the debate in the United States has focused on the domestic response to the pandemic, the US also plays a key role in international efforts to combat the spread of infectious disease generally. According to an April 22-24 Morning Consult poll of registered voters conducted for the US Global Leadership Coalition, while most (74%) support the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), a large majority also say that an additional recovery package is necessary (77%). As part of that additional recovery package, eight in ten (79%) favor including additional support for the State Department, USAID, and other agencies to fight the coronavirus globally.

American voters see that support as being in their own self-interest. Three-quarters (77%) say that as long as the coronavirus is spreading anywhere in the world, Americans will not be safe from new outbreaks, while a quarter (23%) believe that if we can contain the virus within the United States we should be able to prevent its return. And eight in ten (80%) say that assistance to other countries with weaker health systems to help them fight diseases are investments that make America safer.

Canada

The number of cases in Canada has surpassed 60,000, with most cases located in Quebec and Ontario. Though the growth rate is slower than in many other western nations—and there are signs that the curve may be flattening—fears of contracting the coronavirus have stayed remarkably consistent. Half (55%) of respondents say they are either very or somewhat afraid of personally contracting COVID-19, compared to 57 percent on March 23. Meanwhile, 67 percent of respondents say they are very or somewhat afraid that someone in their immediate family will contract the virus, compared to 69 percent on March 23.

The consistency in fears has coincided with a relative consistency in compliance with social distancing measures, though there has been a slight uptick in noncompliance: 35 percent of Canadians reported that they did not comply with at least one social distancing and public health measure, compared to 28 percent on March 30. Quarantine fatigue may be starting to take its toll.

Nevertheless, the Canadian government and public are more willing to remain in lockdown than are their American neighbors. A May 1-3 survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies shows that Americans (23%) are twice as likely as Canadians (12%) to support accelerating the pace of relaxing social distancing measures. A majority (64%) of Canadians say the federal government should maintain the pace, compared to the smaller plurality of Americans (43%).

France

Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe appeared in front of the Senate on Monday—he was in front of the National Assembly last week—to explain the details of the French government’s deconfinement plan. He highlighted that while the deconfinement plan is tentative based on conditions relating to the spread of the virus, primary schools will reopen on May 11 and middle schools will reopen on May 18 regardless of these conditions. The justification for this hard-reopening date, he said, is based on fears of “social, economic, and geopolitical” “time bombs” due to “five months of school dropout for thousands of young people.”

The French people, however, are not convinced. In an April 22-23 Odoxa survey about reopening schools on May 11, 63 percent of respondents said it is a bad idea including 67 percent of parents with school-age children. Moreover, 60 percent of French respondents say that this decision was made for economic reasons because the government needs childcare solutions so that parents can return to work. Just a quarter (25%) of the French public say that this decision is being made because many working class or disadvantaged children risk dropping out of school.

Italy

On Monday, Italy began ‘Phase 2” of its re-opening plan and restrictions were eased across the country. While many Italians are eager for the lockdown to end, reports detail frustration and anger among Italians as life under Phase 2 remains drastically different from life before the lockdown. An April 27-28 Istituto Ixè survey confirmed that a majority of Italians (63%) think that Phase 2 is not substantially different from the initial lockdown which began on March 9. At the same time, the survey found that 72 percent of Italians are favorable towards the Phase 2 plan.

Italians are split on what to prioritize in the reopening of the country; while 40 percent say that restarting productive activities is the main priority and 9 percent say that allowing people to resume travel is the main priority, 46 percent say that these are equally important. Regardless, a majority (54%) of Italians say that the worst of the emergency is behind them.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte—along with France, Spain, and other European nations—took a firm stance with the European Council over emergency aid plans and succeeded in convincing the member states to adopt a joint bond system so that debt can be shared among European nations. The Italian public has responded positively; asked how they rate Conte’s work at the European Council, a majority (55%) say it was very or somewhat effective.

The United Kingdom

According to figures produced by the UK government, in the three months leading up the UK lockdown less than 300 people were quarantined out of more than 18 million people who entered the country. Those who were quarantined either came directly from Wuhan or from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The UK Home Office estimates that that the potential number of infected travelers that entered the country without quarantine could number in the tens of thousands.

In a survey conducted April 30-May 1, Britons say that the government prepared very or fairly badly for the pandemic (67%). Moreover, 62 percent of respondents say that the lockdown happened too late and a majority (54%) say that the government should first lift restrictions in areas where the outbreak is less severe instead of lifting it all at once.

At the same time, reports accuse Health Secretary Matt Hancock of transferring public health duties from the National Health Service to private sector medical firms. Contracts have been awarded to management consultancies and other private companies to manage drive-in testing centers, to buy personal protective equipment, and to conduct other medical activities. However, trust in the NHS among the British public remains very high (89%)—higher than any other institution or person respondents were asked about, including Boris Johnson (54%).

Brazil

Brazil now has more than 110,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,000 deaths. Reports suggest that the official number is severely undercounted due to a lack of testing. One emerging hotspot in the country is in Amazonas, which has one of Brazil’s highest infection rates and most underfunded health systems. Meanwhile, a lack of comprehensive financial assistance has left the poorest Brazilians in a difficult situation.

Support for social distancing has declined, with opinion of President Jair Bolsonaro’s performance during the pandemic a key dividing line. According to a May 27 survey by Datafolha, just half (52%) of Brazilians support social isolation for all people, regardless of whether or not they belong to an at-risk population. Forty-six percent say that only those who are at-risk should stay isolated, with the rest returning to work. However, 71 percent of those who disapprove of Bolsonaro’s performance support maintaining full social distancing measures, and 68 percent of those who approve of Bolsonaro’s performance support rolling back social distancing measures for all but at-risk populations.

Israel and Palestine

Israel has started to ease its social distancing measures as the rate of new coronavirus infections declined in recent weeks. On April 29, the number of Israelis that have recovered from the virus surpassed the number of those currently sick for the first time. In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that schools, which partially reopened on May 3, would return to their normal schedules by the end of May. On May 4, Israel ended its 100-meter limit on travel from homes for nonessential activities.

During the coronavirus crisis, Israel has seen an increase in citizens’ sense of belonging. According to a survey conducted April 22-23 by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute, 93 percent of Jewish Israelis and 77 percent of Arab Israelis say they “feel part of Israel and its problems.” This is a significant increase over past results. Between 2014 and 2019, the percent of Arab Israelis who felt part of Israel ranged from 35 percent to 62 percent, while the percent of Jewish Israelis who felt the same ranged from 83 percent to 87 percent.

Jewish and Arab Israelis agree that the Ministry of Health is the most trustworthy source when it comes to reliable information about the coronavirus. Three-quarters (73%) of both groups say the Ministry’s announcements provide very or somewhat reliable information on the pandemic. A March 24-26 survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that Health Ministry Director-General Mosche Bar Siman Tov receives the highest percentage of positive ratings of any government official (68% rate his “functioning at this time” as very good or good). Mr. Bar Siman Tov is also the only official to receive a positive rating from the majority of Arab Israelis (53% very good or good). However, Arab and Jewish Israelis disagree about the reliability of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s information. Two-thirds (67%) of Jewish citizens say his announcements are reliable compared to 48 percent of Arab citizens.

Trust in government officials is also high in the Palestinian Territories. According to a March 12-15 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) and Gallup International, 67 percent of Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip say that Palestinian health authorities have done a very good or good job preventing the spread of the coronavirus in the Palestinian Territories. In addition, 68 percent say they support cooperation between Israel and Palestinians to prevent the virus’ spread.

Despite high confidence from Israelis and Palestinians in their governments, many believe the crisis has been exaggerated. According to the Guttman Center April survey, 40 percent of Jewish Israelis and 38 percent of Arab Israelis strongly or somewhat agree that the government has exaggerated reports of the coronavirus epidemic. Similarly, the PCPO survey found that 43 percent of Palestinians believe that “the threat from Coronavirus is exaggerated.”

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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