As confirmed coronavirus cases surpass 16 million worldwide this week, 2.8 million of which are in Europe, the majority of the public acknowledge the health risks associated with COVID-19 and the importance of protecting public health. However, despite over 617,000 deaths worldwide in the past six months (which has already surpassed the estimated seasonal flu deaths for an entire year), some people believe that concerns over the coronavirus situation have been overblown. In the latest poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in July, 22-27% of respondents in Germany, Italy, France, and Spain thought that the severity of coronavirus crisis had been exaggerated in their country.
The country where respondents were most likely to believe that the situation had been exaggerated was Germany (27%), which experienced a softer blow in comparison to its other European counterparts such as Spain and Italy due to its early control of the virus.
Younger generations were more likely to believe that the coronavirus had been exaggerated than older generations. In Germany, 32% of 18-24 year olds and 37% of 25-34 year olds agreed that the coronavirus situation had been exaggerated in comparison to the national average of 27%. In France, 30% of 18-24 year olds and 27% of 25-34 year olds thought the coronavirus situation was exaggerated in comparison to the national average of 22%. In Spain, 28% of 18-24 year olds thought the coronavirus situation was exaggerated in comparison to a national average of 23%.
Italy somewhat bucked the trend with the most sceptical age group being 35-44 year olds, of whom 30% thought coronavirus was exaggerated. However, 29% of 25-34 year olds also agreed that the coronavirus was exaggerated in comparison to the national average of 23%. The lack of concern among the young may be because while younger people are still susceptible to coronavirus, they are more likely to be asymptomatic carriers, resulting in comparatively fewer people of younger generations appearing sick to their peers.
Certain political parties were also hotspots for doubt. 47% of German respondents who voted for right-wing party AfD in the 2017 Federal Election believed that the coronavirus was exaggerated. 33% of Forza Italia supporters in Italy and 33% of En Marche supporters in France also expressed scepticism for the dangers of coronavirus, which was higher than those countries’ national averages.
While Europe certainly has a segment of the population that expresses doubt over the severity of the coronavirus crisis, such sentiment runs even stronger in the US where a poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies earlier this month indicated that 30% of US respondents think that the severity of the coronavirus situation has been exaggerated.
The US reported similar trends to Europe: 25-34 year olds were the most sceptical age group in the US, with the plurality (44%) agreeing that the coronavirus situation was exaggerated. They were followed by 35-44 year olds (36% agreeing) and 45-54 year olds (35% agreeing).
However, the largest determinant by far in the US for opinions on coronavirus was voting intention, and this division was far more pronounced than it was in Europe. The majority (51%) of respondents intending to vote for Trump in 2020 think the coronavirus has been exaggerated, compared to just 13% of respondents intending to vote for Biden who think it has been exaggerated. With a tighter timeline than Germany, whose national elections fall in 2021, or France (2022) or Italy and Spain (2023), pressure is on for both the Republicans and the Democrats to win in November, necessarily turning this pandemic into a hyper-political affair.
Beyond thinking that the coronavirus has been exaggerated, some respondents would even go so far as to claim it is a hoax. Across the four major European countries polled, 14-16% of the public in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain thinks that the coronavirus is a hoax.
Again, certain political parties were more likely than others to buy into the hoax theory, such as AfD at 21%. En Marche had an ever more dramatic turnout where 30% of respondents who voted for them in 2017 thought the coronavirus was a hoax in comparison to a national average of 14%.
Though news coverage has erupted with stories of personal recklessness spurred by such scepticism, for example the 30-year old man who died after attending a COVID party, the majority (42-56%) of the public across the four European countries polled do not think that the belief that the coronavirus is a hoax is becoming increasingly common position, compared to 26-38% who do think scepticism of coronavirus is becoming more common.
Respondents in Italy were the most likely (38%) to consider the hoax conspiracy to be one that is growing, which is likely explained by forefront politicians such as former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and Member of the Chamber of Deputies Giorgia Meloni pushing the theory. Surprisingly however, their comments didn’t lead to a drastic increase in scepticism among their supporters. For example, 16% of respondents who voted for Lega Nord, Salvini’s party, thought that the coronavirus was a hoax, but this came barely above the national average of 14%.
The belief that the coronavirus has been overexaggerated or indeed, that it is a hoax, is still only held by a minority in France, Spain, Italy and Germany. However, even though economies across the globe are progressively reopening, that does not mean the coronavirus is over. While some political parties in Europe express greater frustration against the stagnation of normal life than others, the coronavirus situation has not become politicised to the extent it has in the US. Europe can count itself lucky that the pandemic did not occur in a particularly prominent election year.