September 16, 2020 | By Craig Kafura, Brendan Helm, Charlie Rahr

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: September 16

This week the world passed the 29.5 million case mark, with over 935,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19. As much of the world looks for hope in the form of a vaccine, research continues toward a possible cure or treatment for the virus. While President Trump has promised a vaccine before November, many are skeptical that a vaccine can safely be developed in such a short span of time.

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 UK, Canada, and Israel.

Key Findings

  • Eight in ten (81%) Americans do not expect a coronavirus vaccine to be widely available before the November 3 presidential election. Even if a vaccine were freely available before the election, a majority (54%) of Americans say they would not get vaccinated.
  • Japan’s Abe Shinzo stepped down as prime minister of Japan. A majority of Japanese (51%) say the timing was appropriate and 29 percent said it came too late. A plurality (47%) give negative marks to his coronavirus response.
  • In France, 71 percent say the plan to revive the French economy is a good one, but 51 percent think the €100 billion price tag is too high and will weigh on future generations.
  • A plurality of Britons (46%) think it is unacceptable for Britain to renege on commitments made as part of the Brexit deal while 33 percent think it is acceptable.
  • Even as Israel enters a second wave of infections, 20 percent of Israelis say they do not think they would or are sure they would not take a vaccine once it is available.


United States

6.6+ million cases, 195,000 deaths

With the US presidential race polling historically stable, commentators are speculating on possible ‘October surprises’ that could shake the race up in the 48 days remaining before election day. One popular choice, hinted at by President Trump repeatedly, is a COVID-19 vaccine. But vaccine development is only part of the challenge. It also has to be deployed, and used, by the public.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation polling conducted August 28-September 3, most Americans (81%) say they do not expect a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available in the US prior to the November 3 presidential election. But making a vaccine available is only the first step: Americans also need to get vaccinated. However, a majority say that if an FDA-approved vaccine was freely available prior to the election, they would not want to get vaccinated (54%, 42% would).

FDA approval might not assuage public concerns about vaccine safety. A majority of Americans (62%) are worried that the FDA will rush to approve a vaccine without ensuring its safety and efficacy as a result of political pressure from the Trump administration. And four in ten say that the CDC (42%) and the FDA (39%) pay too much attention to politics under the Trump administration. The president’s comments on a potential vaccine are exacerbating the problem. In NBC News polling from September 7-13, a majority of Americans (52%) say they don’t trust the president’s comments on a vaccine, compared to just 26 percent who say they do (20% said they were ‘not aware’ of the comments).

Partisanship also plays a strong factor in shaping Americans’ concerns around a vaccine. Democrats are by far the most worried about political pressure in the vaccine approval process (85%). However, they are also the mostly likely to say they would get vaccinated (50%, 46% would not). Republicans are less concerned about a rushed vaccine (35%), but also less likely to say they would get a vaccine if it was available (36% would, 60% would not).

How much political reward there is for a vaccine, and its potential impact on public attitudes, will also depend on how much pain the vaccine is seen as averting. And for the first time in KFF polling, the public is split over whether the worst of the coronavirus is still to come or is behind us (38% each). This marks a notable improvement from July, when six in ten (60%) thought the worst was yet to come. But opinion splits sharply along partisan lines. A majority of Democrats (58%) say the worst of the pandemic is still to come, while a majority of Republicans (56%) say it is behind us.


77,144 cases, 1,468 deaths

Yoshihide Suga, after winning a vote of Liberal Democratic Party members in a landslide, became Japan’s 99th Prime Minister on Wednesday. In a TBS News/JNN poll conducted September 5-6, he was the plurality choice of the public (48%), well above rivals Shigeru Ishiba (27%) and Fumio Kishida (6%). High on the list of the public’s priorities for the next prime minister: economics and employment (27%), social security (22%), and the coronavirus (18%).

Suga will step into office with an improving coronavirus situation. As new cases in Japan decline and restrictions are lifted in Tokyo, the government response to the pandemic is getting better reviews: TBS News/JNN polling finds the public divided over the government’s coronavirus response, with equal proportions (46% each) giving the government positive and negative marks.

Prime Minister Abe leaves office at a time not fully of his choosing, but one most Japanese see as appropriate. TBS News/JNN polling finds that a majority of the public (51%) says the timing of Abe’s departure was appropriate, with another three in ten (29%) saying it came too late (and 13% too early). The latest crisis he faced—the coronavirus pandemic—is also the one for which he gets the lowest marks. According to a September 8 Mainichi Shimbun poll, a plurality of the public (47%) gives Abe’s response to the pandemic negative marks.

But it’s not all bad news for Abe on his way out. Looking back on his tenure in office, TBS/JNN finds most Japanese see the Abe administration’s seven years and eight months in power as a positive time, with seven in ten (71%) giving Abe’s accomplishments a positive evaluation. And Mainichi Shimbun data shows that despite negative reviews of the coronavirus response, a plurality of the public gives his economic plans favorable reviews (45%), and an outright majority (57%) give his foreign and security policies a favorable review.


395,104 cases, 31,000 deaths

On September 3, the Élysée’s three-pronged plan to revive the French economy was announced and the French people have given it a positive reception. First unveiled by Prime Minister Jean Castex, the plan will focus on ecological efficiency and lowering energy costs, increasing competitiveness for French businesses, and bolstering social and territorial cohesion. A strong majority of French people say that this is a good plan for France (71%) while about three in ten (29%) disagree, according to a September 3-4 Odoxa survey of French adults. While the support for the plan is by far highest among the ‘La République En Marche,’ President Emmanuel Macron’s political party, majorities of French people in every major political party agree that it is a good plan—a rare moment of consensus.

However, further polling revealed that the French do have a critical eye for the details of the plan. While the public thinks that the plan will protect businesses (64%) and promote professional development for youths (60%), there is less confidence in the plan’s ability to reinforce the French health system (46%) or to avoid layoffs (40%). Furthermore, majorities of French people think that the plan should provide more resources to households (74%) and provide more resources for businesses (57%). In addition to the public’s recognition of the gaps in the plan, it appears that they even question certain policies that are included; in particular, two-thirds of French people (68%) do not believe the government’s pledge to not raise taxes. Given the criticism of the plan—or the outright skepticism that some of its parts will be honored—it is surprising that the French people gave it such a positive reception.

The other aspect of this plan which has caught the French people’s attention is its effect on public debt. With the plan’s €100 billion price tag, the French are split: while 48 percent think that such a plan is necessary to avoid a collapse of the French economy, 51 percent think that the government should have limited the cost of the plan as the process of paying it back will weigh on future generations. Despite the divided opinions on the outcome of the plan, two-thirds of French people report that they are pessimistic about the future of the economic situation in France.

The United Kingdom

374,228 cases, 41,664 deaths                                                             

Another scandal has begun to unfold in Britain as a new law proposed by the government would break a part of the United Kingdom’s agreed-upon Brexit deal with the European Union. The Internal Market Bill, if passed, would clash with the Northern Ireland protocol, an already controversial aspect of the Brexit negotiations which aimed to avoid re-creating a ‘hard’ border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Already, recriminations and finger-pointing have begun to fly between Boris Johnson and the UK Parliament, as well as between the United Kingdom and the European Union. A September 9-11 Opinium poll of UK adults found that a plurality believe it would be unacceptable for the United Kingdom to renege on commitments it made in the Brexit withdrawal agreement (46%) while a third believe it would be acceptable (33%).  

At the same time, a campaign by the UK government to encourage Briton’s to return to their physical offices has been postponed due to difficulty with the implementation of social-distancing guidelines. More than half of British adults report having worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic (59%), though nearly half have been asked by their employer to return to the office (49%), according to a September 1-2 Redfield and Wilton poll. When asked when they believe they will return to their office, a majority of those who are fully working from home said they expected to return sometime in 2021 (47%) or to work from home indefinitely (12%). And of those who have worked from home, three-quarters say they would like to continue doing so even after the coronavirus pandemic ends (74%).

While the government is evidently eager to have workers return to their offices, Briton’s are fairly split about the economic impacts of continued remote working. While a plurality agrees that the continuation of remote working will have a negative economic impact (42%), 27 percent disagree with that statement and 26 percent neither agree nor disagree.


138,803 cases, 9,188 deaths

Cases are once again on the rise in Canada. Over the last two weeks, the country has seen a 57% increase in its overall case count, with its latest seven-day average topping out at just over 680 cases. Fueling this surge are increasing infections in Canada’s more populated provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia. Ontario, for instance, has seen greater than 200 new cases per day over this past weekend, bringing the province to infection levels not seen since early June. While rising case numbers are always worrying, Canadians still have reason to be hopeful that they can roll back this current surge. It is much slower and less widespread than the rapid increase in cases which accompanied the country’s first wave. Speaking on the country’s rising case count, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to remain vigilant and “be there for each other” by continuing to follow public health guidelines. In another hopeful sign, Canada experienced zero deaths from the coronavirus on September 11, something which had not occurred since mid-March.

Just as Americans are facing pandemic-related anxieties over their coming elections, Canadians are as well. In a recent survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute from August 26-30, over a quarter (27%) of Canadians responded that they would be uncomfortable voting in-person at polling stations. On the other hand, just over four in ten (43%) feel that they would be completely comfortable with in-person voting. Supporters of the Conservative Party are most likely to be comfortable as 86% of them express some level of comfort towards it, 64% of Liberal Party supporters and the 63% of NDP supporters feel the same.


166,794 cases, 1,147 deaths

Seeking to roll back a second coronavirus wave, Israel has instituted another nationwide lockdown, making it the only developed country to have implemented two of such measures. Israel’s current lockdown is specifically aimed at stopping the mass gatherings which occur with the upcoming Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, and Sukkot. As the Jewish New Year approaches, it is evident that the first wave of infections took a toll on the outlook of Israelis. Recent polling by the Israel Democracy Institute shows that 70 percent of Israeli Jews would describe the ‘national mood’ as pessimistic, compared to just 49 percent of Israeli Arabs. At the same time, in terms of their personal moods, Israeli Jews are slightly more optimistic (54%) than Israeli Arabs (38%).

However, while a degree of pessimism pervades the Israeli population, there are signs of reluctance to accept a vaccine should it become available. An August 17-18 survey conducted by Assuta Medical Centers found that 20 percent of Israeli respondents say they don’t think they would, or are sure they would not take a coronavirus vaccine. Another 6 percent said that they did not know. Out of all groups surveyed, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish people were the least likely to say they would be vaccinated (64%). This community saw a disproportionate amount of infections relative to their share of the population in the first wave.

While fears of the coronavirus continue to plague Israelis, political unrest surrounds longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in November was indicted on corruption charges. Protests against the prime minister have been ongoing for 12 weeks now, and an August 31-September 2 poll by the Israel Democracy institute found that 9 percent of Israeli Jews and 10 percent of Israeli Arabs have participated in the protests. Asked who is more responsible for clashes between protesters and police, respondents are split with 34 percent blaming the protesters while 31 percent blame the police.


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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