October 28, 2020 | By Craig Kafura, Brendan Helm, Renee Perper, Charlie Rahr, Giulia Shaughnessy

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: October 28

This week the world passed the 44 million case mark, with over 1.1+ million deaths attributed to COVID-19. As the Northern Hemisphere heads into the winter months, many countries in North America, Europe, and the Middle East face rising waves of COVID-19 infections. Consequently, the World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that these countries are at a “critical juncture” and has called for immediate action.

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, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, and Jordan.

Key Findings 

  • In the United States, Americans are heading to the polls in record numbers to vote in what looks to be the largest turnout election in US history. A majority of voters (57%) disapprove of the President’s handling of the pandemic, and 55 percent say former VP Biden would do a better job.
  • Though cases are down in Japan, the public remains concerned, and a majority say that preventing the spread of the coronavirus (59%) should be prioritized over economic activity (32%). 
  • As much of France is placed under a curfew, 60 percent of French people say that it should have come into effect sooner.
  • Although 58 percent of London residents say that the UK government is not taking the right measures to control the virus, 63 percent support the government’s decision to move the city to the second tier of COVID-19 restrictions on October 16.
  • With upwards of 15,000 new cases every day for the past week, 60% of Italians say that the worst is yet to come or that the worst is now.
  • In Canada, a plurality (44%) say that the worst of the COVID-19 crisis has not yet occurred. An additional 27 percent say that Canada is currently experiencing the worst period of the crisis.


The United States

8.8+ million cases, 226,681 deaths

Early voting is underway across the United States, with more than 70 million ballots already cast. In addition to large numbers of ballots cast by mail this year, in-person early voting is attracting large numbers of voters, and creating long lines at some polling locations. But voters aren’t put off from in-person voting by the pandemic: an Axios/Ipsos survey from October 16-19 show that most Americans do not see voting in-person as a large (12%) or moderate (32%) risk to their health and well-being, though they are more concerned about attending a campaign rally (58% large risk, 17% moderate risk).

Still, the pandemic is certainly on the minds of Americans headed to the polls. Most Americans (82%) are concerned about the coronavirus outbreak, with eight in ten worried about rising cases this fall and winter (80%) and the additional lockdowns that would likely accompany such a rise in cases (80%).

A note to readers: here in Chicago, we are in the middle of a second wave, and once-relaxed restrictions are rolling back out. Stay safe out there.

Next week’s election is not a vote just on the pandemic, but it plays a large role for some voters (as Pew polling earlier in October shows, primarily among Biden and Biden-leaning voters). Quinnipiac polling conducted October 16-19 finds that six in ten likely voters (59%) think the spread of the coronavirus is out of control, and a majority disapprove of President Trump’s handling of the pandemic (41% approve, 57% disapprove). A majority of likely voters say that former Vice President Biden would do a better job responding to the coronavirus than President Trump (55% vs. 38%).

But the election is not the only thing happening in the next month. November is also the time for American Thanksgiving, a time when families normally come together to celebrate. But the holidays this year will be different. For one, they present a new level of risk: according to Oct. 23-26 Axios/Ipsos polling, two-thirds of Americans (66%) say that travelling for the upcoming holidays is a large or moderate risk. For the half of Americans (54%) who have already started planning their holiday season, only 18 percent overall plan to carry on as usual. Thirty percent will celebrate only with those they live with, and six percent plan to celebrate with friends in their “bubble”. Perhaps the one upside of a smaller gathering at Thanksgiving—less discussion of politics over the dining table, which most voters in 2018 said they were hoping to avoid (61%)—though it may disappoint the 28 percent who were looking forward to it.

The next COVID update will come following the US election.


98,812 cases, 1,737 deaths

While the coronavirus pandemic has not ended in Japan, the number of cases nationwide are lower than previous months (and compared to countries like the United States, they seem unfathomably low). Still, the public isn’t thrilled with the government response thus far. In an October 17-18 survey by the Asahi Shimbun, 49 percent give the government’s coronavirus response a positive review (37% disapprove, and 14 percent declined to answer). The public also does not see the pandemic response as an area where new Prime Minister Suga has demonstrated leadership characteristics (45%, 26% say he has, and 29% are not sure).

With the public focused on the pandemic, about half of the Japanese public (52%) says that they feel anxious about the difficulties in their lives posed by the spread of the coronavirus; 46 percent do not. And the public remains concerned about the possibility of a second wave of infections, with most Japanese either very (37%) or somewhat (51%) concerned about a second wave. Likely for this reason, the public continues to focus on public health as a priority. An NTV poll fielded October 16-18 finds that 59 percent of Japanese say that preventing the spread of the coronavirus should be prioritized over economic activity (32%).

Pandemic concerns do have the public questioning whether the 2020 Tokyo Olympics—postponed to the summer of 2021—will be able to take place. Asahi finds that a plurality of Japanese (41%) say the games should be held in the summer, but a quarter (26%) thinks they should be postponed further—and 28 percent say they should be canceled.


1.1+ million cases, 35,541 deaths

As France surpassed 1 million total cases, President Macron announced that the curfew originally intended for the large metropolitan areas of the nation would be extended to cover more than two-thirds of the French population. The rate of new infections has been soaring throughout October, and French officials are struggling to contain the outbreak. In regard to the curfew, 60 percent of French people say it is a good measure, though 60 percent also say that it should have been decided earlier, according to an October 21-22 Odoxa poll. Either way, nearly nine in ten French people (88%) say they will scrupulously respect this measure.

Otherwise, in order to control the spread, French officials have attempted several new methods. They released a second contact tracing app, TousAntiCovid, after their first app, StopCovid, failed to effectively warn people of potential exposures. However, a majority of French respondents expressed that they have no intention of downloading the new application, while 27 percent say they will wait to see if the app is secure and effective before eventually downloading it. Additionally, the Elysée has tasked restaurants with keeping track of customer contacts in case of potential exposures.

At the same time as this spike in COVID-19 cases, the recent killing of a schoolteacher by a religious extremist outside of Paris has shaken the nation. The killing prompted President Macron to unveil the key details for a long-awaited series of measures to prevent terrorism and the radicalization of people in France; these laws will be debated in parliament in 2021. An October 21-22 Elabe survey found that a large majority of French people (83%) are concerned about the threat of terrorism in France.

In addition, majorities of French respondents expressed that they find Macron’s anti-terrorism measures effective, including the expulsion of a certain number of foreigners registered for radicalization (83%), the dissolution of organizations that support radical Islamism (79%), the closing of mosques which have members implicated in radical Islamism (72%), and the creation of a new offense for endangerment by publication of personal information (67%). While these laws have yet to be discussed by the Council of Ministers, the National Assembly, and the French Parliament, the high level of support for specific measures suggests that it will not face significant resistance as it is debated by French lawmakers.

The United Kingdom

917,575 cases, 45,365 deaths

As cases have spiked in the United Kingdom, the newest controversy for Downing Street involves children’s school lunches. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to extend the government’s meal voucher program for school children, saying that a £63 million payment to local councils and a £20 per week Universal Credit increase should be sufficient to support families. At the same time, around three in ten Britons (30%) report that they are concerned about their ability to pay their rent or mortgage payments while 38 percent are actively trying to save more money, according to an October 9-13 Ipsos MORI poll.

Across Britain, the tier system of outbreak severity has come into effect, and London has been placed in the second tier—‘high’. This designation means that people cannot mix with other households indoors and no more than six people can meet up outdoors or in private gardens. Despite the restrictions, an October 15-17 Redfield and Wilton poll found that 58 percent of Londoners say that the UK government is not taking the right measures to address the pandemic. Nonetheless, half of Londoners (50%) say that decisions about coronavirus restrictions in London should be made by the UK government, and not City Hall (32%). Moreover, 63 percent of London residents support the decision to move the London area to the second tier of restrictions on October 16.

Londoners’ support for the increased restrictions may be tied to their sentiments toward working from home. At the time of the Redfield and Wilton survey on October 15-17, 69 percent of London residents said that they have been working from home during the pandemic. In addition, a slim majority (51%) says they have been significantly (19%) or somewhat (32%) more productive. And, asked if they would continue working from home after the pandemic, seven in ten respondents (68%) responded in the affirmative.


564,788 cases, 37,700 deaths

Italy is also experiencing a sharp increase in daily coronavirus cases. The number of daily cases has gone from around 1000 to 2000 new cases per day in September to about 20,000 this past week. At the same time, Italy is experiencing a shortage of medical personnel to deal with the new COVID-19 patients. Whereas during the first peak of cases in Italy the main concern was obtaining enough ventilators and hospital beds for patients, the problem has now become that there are not enough resuscitators, anesthetists, and specialized nurses.

In response to the uptick in cases, the Italian government has put new restrictions in place. Restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, and bakeries are now only allowed to stay open until 6 pm. with a maximum of 4 people per table (except in the case where all guests live together). Gyms, swimming pools, wellness centers, spas, theatres, concert halls and have all been ordered to close again. Festivals, conventions, and other events have been suspended, unless they take place remotely.

New survey data reflects increasing worries about the pandemic. According to an Ipsos survey conducted in mid-October, 33 percent of Italians say the worst is yet to come and 27 percent say they are currently in the worst part of the pandemic. Both are up 8 percentage points since the question was last asked.

Although people seem to understand the gravity of the situation, views are evenly split as to whether they want a second lockdown—46 percent favor a new lockdown, while 43 percent are opposed. Three quarters (75%) expect that if lockdowns happen, they will be restricted to specific zones experiencing especially high numbers of new cases. Only 16% expect that a new lockdown will affect the entire country.

In addition to preparing for the increase in COVID-19 cases, Italians are also gearing up for a new economic downturn. A Coldiretti/Ixè analysis estimates that a Christmas holiday season without tourists could cost the Italian economy up to 4.1 billion euros. To address this, as well as the new closures of restaurants and stores, the Italian government is preparing to give out 6.8 billion euros to people economically affected, with 2.3 billion of that reserved for people laid off as a consequences of the new lockdown.


222,887 cases, 10,001 deaths

The pandemic continues to disrupt cross-border traffic between the United States and Canada as it was announced last week that the border will remain closed to non-essential travel, until at least November 21. By this time, the border will have been shut for nearly eight months. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified extending the closure by remarking, “Right now, the situation in the United States continues to be of concern.” However, Canada’s coronavirus situation is also of increasing concern, especially in the province of Ontario. On Monday, the province reported its highest ever seven-day average of new coronavirus cases—878 cases per day. This is a significant increase over seven-day averages seen during Canada’s first wave of the pandemic, which did not surpass 560 new cases per day. In response to the rising case counts, Ontario’s provincial government stated that it may take “swift action” to curb the virus’ spread. 

In a survey conducted October 16-18 by Leger, a plurality (44%) of Canadians think that the worst of the COVID-19 crisis has not yet occurred. An additional 27 percent say Canada is currently experiencing the crisis’s worst period. Only 13% feel that the worst period has already occurred. In a more positive sign, most Canadians (65%) are satisfied with the federal government’s measures to stop the coronavirus’s spread. Similar numbers are satisfied with the measures implemented by their provincial (68%) and local governments (64%).


58,855 cases, 668 deaths

Jordan’s number of daily coronavirus cases measured in the single digits through the spring and summer. In September, however, Jordan’s coronavirus cases nearly quadrupled. Infection rates have continued to exponentially grow in October. This dramatic increase of coronavirus cases comes amidst an ongoing public debate regarding the efficacy of a State of Emergency order. On March 17th, at the direction of King Abdullah II, Jordanian PM Omar Razzaz implemented Defense Law No. 13 .

While some Jordanians credit the Defense Law for the government’s success in tackling the pandemic, the law has been subject of criticism. Under the law, employers can significantly reduce the wages of their employees. Additionally, the implementation of Defense Law No. 13 has led to the arrests of political protesters. In response to the Jordanian government’s COVID-19 response, Human Rights Watch released a statement say that the “Jordanian authorities have exploited the country’s covid-19 pandemic.”

When coronavirus cases remained low, Jordanian’s faith in the government’s order was high. A study conducted through the University of Jordan found that, as of June 21, 92% of Jordanians believed the Jordanian government had succeeded in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. But the dramatic rise in coronavirus cases, may cause Jordanians to question the government’s response to the global pandemic. The Jordanian Minister of Health even stated that Jordan’s COVID-19 cases have entered “the phase of indiscriminate spread.”


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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