September 30, 2020 | By Craig Kafura, Brendan Helm, Giulia Shaughnessy, Charlie Rahr

Global Public Opinion and the Coronavirus: September 30

This week the world passed the 33 million case mark, with over 1 million deaths attributed to COVID-19. The United States has passed the 200,000 death mark while cases rise sharply in Europe, and Latin America continues to see high levels of infections. As the Northern Hemisphere heads into the winter months, many are concerned about the effect that flu season may have on this already severe health crisis.

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, Italy, Canada, and Israel.

Key Findings

  • As the US presidential election draws near, even the death count from the coronavirus pandemic has been politicized with 64 percent of Democrats saying it is higher than reported while 70 percent of Republicans say it is lower than reported.
  • As Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga comes into office amid a pandemic, three quarters of Japanese people (76%) continue to worry about contracting the virus.  
  • Despite a slew of new policies to combat the spread of the coronavirus in France, a plurality of French (45%) say the government is not taking enough precautions to curb the outbreak.
  • As the United Kingdom experiences a massive outbreak of new COVID-19 cases, 51 percent of Britons say that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come, up from 30 percent in early June.
  • Canada is well into its second wave of coronavirus infections, and a strong majority of Canadians believe it is their civic duty to wear a mask (87%). Three-quarters (75%) wear masks in public because they feel “it is the right thing to do.”
  • Although the rate of new cases has stabilized in Italy, new localized outbreaks continue to appear throughout the country and 71 percent of Italians believe a second wave of infections is fairly or very probable.
  • As a severe outbreak of new coronavirus cases spreads through Israel and a second lockdown is put in place to combat this wave, majorities of Jewish (67%) and Arab (72%) Israelis have little or no confidence in Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the efforts against COVID-19.


United States

7,219,937 cases, 205,859 deaths

More than 200,000 Americans have died thus far from COVID-19, but as political polarization plays a greater role in perceptions of the death toll, fewer Americans can agree on that statement. As Axios/Ipsos polling finds, one-third of Americans overall (37%) say the actual number of deaths is greater than reported numbers, while a similar proportion (36%) say the reported count overstates the real number of deaths. This breaks down along partisan lines, with two-thirds of Democrats (64%) saying the death toll is higher than reported, while Republicans (70%) say it is lower than reported.

Regardless of whether the numbers are higher or lower than reported totals, the virus continues to spread. As that happens, more Americans report knowing someone who has tested positive (60%), though the proportion of Americans who say they know someone who has died has leveled off in recent weeks.

Americans are also going out more—and self-isolating less—than they have in months. Half (51%) say they have visited friends and relatives in the last week, and four in ten (40%) have gone out to eat. When Americans do go out, they are wearing masks—either all the time (68%) or sometimes (20%). Few Americans say they occasionally (9%) or never (2%) wear a mask when leaving home. The constant presence of masks in public may reinforce in people a sense that ‘normal’ is a long way away: a September 11-16 NPR/PBS/Marist poll finds half of Americans (49%) think it will take a year or more for their daily lives to return to normal. And even after the pandemic passes, half of Americans (51%) say their lives will remain changed in major ways, according to Pew polling from August.

Key to that return to normal will be a vaccine, though as highlighted in our last summary, many Americans worry about the political pressures involved in deeming a vaccine safe. While only a third of Americans (37%) say they would get the first-generation vaccine, according to Axios/Ipsos polling, there are measures that can increase adoption. The most important is the point of contact most Americans have with the US healthcare system—their doctor—as a majority of Americans (62%) say they would be somewhat or very likely to get a vaccine if their doctor said it was safe. Also helpful: the FDA vouching for its safety (54%) and the cost being fully covered by insurance (56%).


83,706 cases, 1,571 deaths

Yoshihide Suga is the newest Prime Minister of Japan. The Suga cabinet begins its tenure with a high support rate: an NHK survey conducted September 21-22 finds 62 percent of Japanese backing the new cabinet, far above the 34 percent support the Abe cabinet had in August.

Continuity and stability has been highlighted as a feature of the new Suga cabinet, and a majority of the public agree with this approach—to a point. Half of Japanese (53%) favor the Suga cabinet continuing the policy approach of the Abe cabinet, while 38 percent would prefer it did not.

Topping the list of public priorities for the new Suga cabinet: the coronavirus pandemic (25%), followed closely by the economy (20%). Not high on the list is an election for the Lower House. Though Suga’s strong polling numbers have led some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to suggest calling an election soon, a majority of Japanese (58%) say a new election should be held next fall, close to when the current term of office expires. And thus far, Suga seems to agree.

The public’s focus on the pandemic reflects continuing public concerns over COVID-19. Though numbers nationwide are lower than previous weeks, three-quarters of the public (76%) is either very (27%) or somewhat (49%) concerned about contracting the coronavirus. Half of Japanese (51%) evaluate the government’s efforts against the coronavirus thus far very (5%) or somewhat (46%) positively. That’s an increase of thirteen percentage points from last month, when NHK polling found 38 percent of the public giving the government’s response favorable marks, and a return to the more favorable stance seen in the summer.


550,690 cases, 31,893 deaths

Following an increase in cases, the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, revealed a series of new measures designed to curb the spread of the virus. Among these new measures are new designations of “red,” “enhanced alert,” and “maximum alert” for areas within French territory. As of now, only two areas—Guadeloupe and Marseille—have been designated “maximum alert” zones and are subject to more restrictions such as the closing of all bars and restaurants. For “enhanced alert” zones such as Paris and other large cities, bars will close at 10pm, gyms and sports establishments will be closed entirely, and gatherings of more than 10 people are forbidden.

An Elabe poll conducted on September 24-25 found that majorities of French people support a number of these measures, though they are split on the closing of gyms (50% favor, 49% oppose) and opposed to the closing of bars and restaurants in Guadeloupe and Marseille (46% favor, 53% oppose). Nonetheless, a plurality of French respondents say that the French government is not taking enough precautions for COVID-19 (45%), while three in ten say it is taking enough precautions (30%) and a quarter say it is taking too many precautions (25%).

At the same, Jean Castex is now three months into his tenure as Prime Minister and public opinion data reveal that many French are critical of his handling of COVID-19. According to an Odoxa poll fielded September 22-23, 61 percent of French people say that they do not have confidence in his ability to handle the health crisis linked to the COVID-19 epidemic and two-thirds are not confident in his ability to restart the economic growth of France (65%). More broadly, Mr. Castex is starkly less popular than his predecessor, Edouard Phillipe. Asked whether they have a positive or negative opinion of Mr. Castex, 53 percent say that they have a negative opinion and just four in ten say that his first three months in office were a success (39%). By contrast, 63 percent have a positive opinion of Mr. Phillipe and 54 percent want him to return to a federal government office.

The United Kingdom

446,156 cases, 42,072 deaths

Following the implementation of a set of new restrictive laws that aim to control sharply rising COVID-19 infections, Tories have attempted to rebel and introduce an amendment which would give Members of Parliament a say in new laws related to the pandemic. However, their efforts are likely in vain as the Commons Speaker is not expected to allow a vote on the proposed change.

One of new laws introduced on September 14, called the ‘rule of six,’ makes it illegal for people to meet up in groups larger than six people. While an Ipsos MORI poll from September 18-20 shows that overall, six in ten Briton’s support the regulation, support drops among younger British people (49%). Despite different levels of support, majorities of UK respondents say it is unlikely that they would report rule breaking in their local area (60%), from their neighbors (65%), from friends they don’t live with (67%), or from family they don’t live with (70%).

Despite the controversy over some new laws, a recent spike in infections has put Britain’s rate of daily new cases at the same level as it was during their first large wave in April and May. For people in the United Kingdom, this new outbreak is a portentous sign, and half of Britons believe that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come (51%), up from 30 percent in early June, according to a September 15-16 Redfield and Wilton survey.

Along with this pessimism, 62 percent of Britons believe that a second nationwide lockdown is either likely or very likely to happen. Given the size of the current outbreak in England relative to the first, this prediction seems probable, and half of British respondents approve of a second lockdown (51%). Moreover, 63 percent say they would adhere to all of the lockdown rules, as opposed to most of them (25%), some of them (8%), or none of them (3%).


156,961 cases, 9,291 deaths

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that in Canada’s four largest provinces, “the second wave isn’t just starting, it’s already under way.” That seems to be true as Canada’s most populated province, Ontario, saw its highest daily case count ever on Monday, with 700 new coronavirus infections reported. Cases in Quebec, the country’s second most populated province, continued to rise as well. On Sunday, the province reported 896 new cases, its highest daily case count since early May. Quebec’s government is looking to stem this rise in infections by placing Montreal and Quebec City under the province’s highest COVID-19 alert level, though few details have been given as to what that will entail. New regulations or not, Quebecois have still been urged by their public health officials to cease socializing for the next month in an effort to slow down the rise in infections.

A recent, representative survey of the Canadian public by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies conducted from September 18-20 offers hope that the country can roll back its current wave of infections. Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) Canadians responded that the “obligation to wear [a mask] is a civic duty.” In a similar response, three-quarters (75%) wear masks in public places because they “feel it is the right thing to do.” However, despite their willingness to wear masks, Canadians are still far from hopeful that there will be no more lockdowns—7 in 10 (69%) feel that these measures are likely in the next few months. This agreement over future lockdowns may be a result of most Canadians (83%) believing that there will be a second wave, putting them in agreement with Prime Minister Trudeau.


313,011 cases, 35,875 deaths

Since the beginning of September, daily increase in cases in Italy have more or less stabilized at around 1,000 new cases per day. However, new hot zones continue to spring up in cities and towns around the country. To combat this, while also trying to keep most of the economy as open as possible, regional governments have been implementing “mini-lockdowns” in villages and towns who have had sharp increases in new cases.

According to an Ipsos survey from mid-September, many opinions on the coronavirus have also stabilized. Perceived levels of threat to one’s self (34%), to one’s community (42%), to the country (62%) and to the world (74%) have changed little since the beginning of June.

Despite the relatively low perceived threat level to one’s self and one’s community, a large percentage of the population (71%) think that a second wave is fairly or very probable. One quarter (25%) thinks the worst is yet to come, while 19 percent think Italy is still at the peak of the pandemic. Interestingly, a majority of the population (56%) is more worried about them or their loved ones becoming infected with the virus than of losing their jobs or source of income (30%).


239,806 cases, 1,547 deaths

Although much attention in Israel is on the recent Abraham Accords between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, a massive outbreak has led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce a new lockdown of the country, which began on Friday September 18. Despite this step, significant majorities of Jewish (67%) and Arab (72%) Israelis say they have little to no trust in Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the effort against coronavirus according to a September 15-17 Israel Democracy Institute Survey. Among Jewish people, there is more confidence in Professor Ronni Gamzu, the national coronavirus project coordinator, to lead the efforts against the virus (54%), although just a third of Arabs agree (34%).

Along with the varying trust in national figures to deal with the virus, majorities of both Jewish (73%) and Arab (70%) Israelis express great to moderate worry that themselves or their family member will become infected. However, when it comes to economic concerns, there is a great disparity between the outlook of Jewish and Arab Israelis. While 47 percent of Arab Israelis describe themselves as ‘greatly worried’ about their future economic wellbeing, just 19 percent of Jewish Israeli’s say the same. More broadly, Jewish Israelis are split on whether to be pessimistic (45%) or optimistic (48%) about Israeli society’s ability to overcome this crisis, while Arab Israelis are more likely to describe themselves as pessimistic (60%).


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.


| By Craig Kafura

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