A year on from the start of the first lockdown, the UK’s current coronavirus restrictions are among the toughest in the world and current measures are more stringent than those being taken by other European nations and the US. Many American states are easing restrictions despite rising case numbers, while Boris Johnson has faced pressure to speed up his cautious roadmap out of lockdown in light of the UK’s successful vaccination programme and lowering case rates.
In our latest polls, majorities in Great Britain (60%) and the United States (56%) think that the worst of the pandemic is now behind their country, while approximately a fifth in both think the worst it yet to come.
Likewise, pluralities in both the US (46%) and Britain (43%) agree that the coronavirus crisis will likely be over in a year’s time. However, a significant third (32%) of British respondents disagree, as do a fifth (21%) in the United States.
However, a plurality of British respondents think the worst of the economic effects of the pandemic is yet to come (45%), whereas a plurality in the United States think the worst of the economic effects is already behind them(44%).
On the whole, both British and American respondents are optimistic about the future: 48% in the United States and 45% in Great Britain are optimistic that their country can recover quickly from this crisis. Meanwhile, 21% in the United States and 29% in Britain are pessimistic.
Although majorities in both the United States (82%) and Great Britain (73%) said they currently feel safe going outside their home, British respondents are more likely to say they feel unsafe in a range of everyday situations than American respondents: indoors dining (57% of Britons feel unsafe, compared to 46% of Americans), outdoors dining (40% to 31%), shopping for clothes and such items (46% to 28%), going to the barber or salon (44% to 33%), visiting a friend’s house (44% to 32%), and going to the hospital for something unrelated to coronavirus (44% to 32%). Majorities in both countries consider international travel, taking a flight, going to the gym, greeting a friend with a handshake, or watching a movie at a movie theatre to be unsafe.
It is worth noting that Britons have higher feelings of unsafety in many of the situations that are not currently permitted under coronavirus restrictions but are permitted in the vast majority of US states, with the notable exception of hospital visits for something unrelated to coronavirus. Indeed, research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies throughout the pandemic has found that what the public regards as safe and unsafe tends to mirror what is permitted by Government restrictions. Therefore, the gap between the two nations when it comes to feeling of safety could close as the UK emerges from lockdown.
A fascinating difference between the two countries is that American respondents are significantly more likely to say they always wear a mask when leaving their home (62%) than British respondents (35%). It is important to note, however, that mask mandates vary in the US between states, counties, and even individual cities, while the UK has nationwide mask-wearing regulations which generally do not require wearing masks outdoors.
Only a very small minority in the US (6%) and Britain (4%) said they rarely or never wear a mask when they shop at the supermarket, with the vast majority saying they always wear a mask. Many supermarkets in the US require customers wear a mask, while it is a legal national requirement in the UK.
Approximately a quarter of respondents in the US (27%) and Britain (23%) said they always wear a mask when walking in the park, while a fifth in the US (20%) and more than a quarter in the UK (27%) said they never do. While mask wearing is not a legal requirement outdoors in the UK, many US states mandate mask wearing outdoors, including in national parks.
When meeting a friend outside, pluralities in Britain (31%) and the US (38%) said they always wear a mask. Approximately a tenth in both countries said they never do.
On the other hand, when entering a home other than the one they live in, 63% of British respondents said they always wear a mask, compared to just 38% in the United States who say they do so. Given that there are significant restrictions on household mixing in the UK making most visits to other people’s homes illegal, the high self-described rates of mask wearing in the UK may demonstrate an individual’s decision to mitigate the risks associated with rule breaking, or the fact that many those entering the homes of others are doing so for work purposes.
Another fascinating difference is how a plurality of Britons (46%) are actively scared of contracting coronavirus, while a majority (52%) of Americans said they are not actively scared. Once again, this difference may be a result of the UK’s current ‘stay at home’ order, which is stringent and conveys to the public that going outside is risky. Such ‘stay at home’ orders are currently not as prevalent across the United States.
Nonetheless, only 8% of US respondents and 13% of British respondents said they are more scared of contracting coronavirus now than they were in March and April of last year. The remaining respondents were split between being less or equally scared.
Whereas the UK Government chose to keep the country in lockdown as it vaccinates the population, the majority of US states instead chose to open up. Despite these different approaches to tackling the pandemic, our research finds that the British and American publics are broadly aligned in their perception of the pandemic. Across both countries, successful vaccination programmes have encouraged the public to think the worst of the pandemic is now behind their country, although the British public is notably more concerned about the economic fallout of the crisis going forward. Although there are some noticeable differences in some respects such as mask wearing or perceptions of what activities are safe or unsafe, these are largely a reflection of the coronavirus restrictions in place in each country, which naturally condition the public’s perception of the situation at hand.