British Public More Cautious Than Government

July 17, 2020
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As the United Kingdom approached the easing of lockdown restrictions on the 4th of July, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked the public who would be to blame if there were to be a second wave of coronavirus. This question was critical in understanding how the public would interpret the easing of restrictions. Now, nearly two weeks after these restrictions were lifted, we think it is important to revisit our findings.

Across two polls conducted on the 1st and 2nd-3rd of July, we found that a majority of respondents (55-58%) would hold members of the public more responsible than the Government for the outbreak of a second wave. By comparison, just a third of respondents (31-32%) would hold the Government (and in particular its timeline for easing lockdown) primarily responsible.

At the same time, an overwhelming majority of respondents (70-72%) also believe there will be a second wave of coronavirus, highlighting the challenges ahead for the Government in stimulating consumer confidence and restarting the economy.

The UK public have consistently held the view that other members of the public have not observed lockdown rules to the letter. In May, although 72% of respondents judged that they themselves had fully observed the lockdown rules, only 10% stated they believed other members of the public had fully observed lockdown rules. Although it is likely that respondents are simply accounting for the few members of public breaking the rules amongst the vast majority of rule abiders, this discrepancy mirrors the lack of faith that many people have about the general public’s ability to prevent a second wave.

A plurality of respondents (45%) feel that the UK Government is not taking the right steps to prevent another nationwide outbreak of coronavirus in the future. Yet this perception on Government inaction has clearly not outweighed their conviction that the lack of caution and rule breaking of members of the public would still be more responsible for a second wave, as evidenced above.

When asked which three activities they were most looking forward to doing in the next few weeks as a result of lockdown easing, seeing family, at 56%, was the most popular. Such a preference for plans which do not involve a return to enclosed public spaces suggests that much of the public are likely to continue behaving more cautiously than the Government suggests.

Indeed, a large majority of respondents (75%) actually said they intend to socialise with the same or fewer numbers of people when the easing of restrictions comes into force than they did prior to the easing. 

Respondents’ reluctance to immediately visit pubs and restaurants or to socialise with more friends somewhat debunks the common narrative that lockdown was coerced onto the public and that after three months of being shut up inside their homes, members of the public are desperate to get back to ‘normal’ life. This reluctance reinforces our conclusion from April, that the Government is not perceived as a reliable arbiter of when it will be safe for the public to resume their ‘normal’ lives. The public will make that decision for themselves.

Overall, the results of our polls present a very different picture to some media narratives around lockdown.

The public is broadly convinced that there will be a second wave of cases. Despite much media coverage focusing on the efficacy (or inefficacy) of the Government’s lockdown rules, it appears that respondents are more concerned by the careless behaviour of their fellow members of public, which they believe will be the main cause of a second spike in cases. This belief is driving members of the public to take it upon themselves to decide how to act, showing how the lockdown is driven primarily by their choices and their perceptions of the risks and not by government policy.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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