Following Approval of Vaccine, Plurality of British Public Now Think the Worst Is Behind Us

December 4, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Boris Johnson | Coronavirus | Coronavirus Restrictions | Coronavirus Testing | Coronavirus Vaccine | Health

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Redfield & Wilton Strategies latest poll in Great Britain occurred shortly following the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine being adjudged safe for usage in the UK. This announcement is likely the central reason why, for the first time since 3 June, a plurality (36%) of the British public consider that the worst is behind us with respect to the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, since 19 November, the proportion of respondents who say the worst is yet to come has dropped from a majority (52%) to around a third (34%). The percentage of respondents who ‘don’t know’ whether or not the worst is behind us or is yet to come, is the highest we have measured to date (30%).

While a plurality (39%) of male respondents now say the worst is behind us, a plurality of female respondents (36%) still consider that the worst is yet to come. Across age demographics, only those aged between 55-64 years old are more likely to consider that the worst is yet to come. Those who voted Conservative in 2019 remain significantly more optimistic than those who supported Labour. Overall, 43% of Conservative voters say the worst is behind us, whereas only a third (33%) of Labour voters hold this view. Nevertheless, the proportion of Labour supporters who think the worst is behind us has increased by 13% in the past fortnight.

Looking forward to the next twelve months, a strong plurality (45%) now say that the coronavirus crisis will likely be over this time next year, an increase of 8% compared to 19 November. Only around a fifth (21%) disagree that the coronavirus crisis will likely be over the time next year. Over a quarter (27%) neither agree nor disagree that the coronavirus will likely be over by this time next year, perhaps indicating that while many believe the public health impact of coronavirus will be over by December 2021, they also consider that the knock on effects of the pandemic will be felt for much longer.

A similar percentage of Conservative supporters (49%) and Labour voters (45%) say that the coronavirus will likely be over this time next year. Meanwhile, 60% of respondents aged 18-24-years-old agree that the crisis will be over by December 2021, compared to just 37-40% of those aged 55 or older. Again, male respondents (49%) are more confident than female respondents (41%) about the future of the coronavirus crisis in the UK.

Nevertheless, despite general optimism, the British public has limited confidence that the pandemic will successfully be controlled in early 2021. Altogether, only 30% of Brits are confident, while 29% are pessimistic, and a plurality (35%) are neither confident nor pessimistic that the pandemic will be successfully controlled in early 2021

Conservative voters are much more likely (40%) than Labour voters (24%) to be confident that the pandemic will be successfully controlled in early 2021. This result likely reflects the relative trust that Conservatives have that the Government measures will be effective in managing the pandemic.

A slight plurality (36%) say they are optimistic about the prospects for themselves and their family in 2021. Nevertheless, over a quarter (26%) are pessimistic about their prospects next year. In addition, over a third (34%) are neither optimistic nor pessimistic about their prospects, which may highlight the continued volatility of British society as 2020 comes to an end.

Significant variations exist between age groups. Almost half (48%) of those aged between 25-34 are optimistic about the prospects of themselves and their family, while less than a quarter (24%) of those aged between 55-64 share this view. Meanwhile, an equal proportion (36%) of the youngest adults aged 18-24, and the oldest respondents aged 65 or above, are optimistic about 2021.

Overall increases in the levels of optimism are undoubtedly correlated with the increasing proportion of the British public who think a coronavirus vaccine is likely to become available within the next year. At this stage, more than three quarters (76%) think a vaccine is likely, whereas just 9% say it is unlikely, and only 15% don’t know.

Interestingly, only 54% of those aged 18-24 years old consider a vaccine likely to become available within the next year, which may reflect the fact that younger adults will be one of the final demographic groups to be inoculated. Furthermore, just 71% of 2019 Labour supporters think it is likely a coronavirus vaccine will become available within the next year, compared to the overwhelming majority (88%) of Conservative voters. A relatively significant minority of Labour voters may be sceptical that the Government will be able to complete universal vaccination by this point in 2021.

At this stage, around two thirds (65%) say they will get vaccinated if a coronavirus vaccine becomes available at little to no financial cost within the next year, a similar result as on 19 November.

Nevertheless, almost a fifth (18%) will not be vaccinated, and the same proportion (18%) do not know if they will take a vaccine. As we have observed throughout our polling, willingness to be vaccinated is especially low among young people. The proportion of young people who say they will get vaccinated has declined by 5% during the last two weeks. Currently, only 43% of 18-24-year olds say they will get vaccinated. By contrast, the vast majority (85%) of the most vulnerable age bracket––those aged 65 and above––say they will get vaccinated. 

The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is being rolled out from Tuesday 8 December, with elderly people in care homes and care home staff at the top of the priority list, followed by over 80s and health and care staff. Overall, the majority (52%) of respondents say they are willing to be one of the earlier recipients of a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available. Less than a third (32%) are unwilling to be an early recipient, while 15% don’t know.

Younger respondents aged 18-34 are much less likely (37%) to be willing to be an early recipient of the vaccine, although this could reflect the widely held belief that the old, who are otherwise more likely to suffer from the virus, should be vaccinated first. Among older respondents aged 65 or above, three quarters (74%) are willing to be an early recipient of the coronavirus vaccine, suggesting that uptake during the initial stages of the rollout is likely to be high.

Nonetheless, our previous research has indicated that half of the British public were worried that standards for approving a coronavirus vaccine would be lowered due to public pressure. In this context, the public are keen for reassurances that the coronavirus vaccine is safe. Indeed, a clear majority (58%) of respondents agree that the Prime Minister should take the coronavirus vaccine on live television to reassure the population that it is safe. Only 16% disagree that Boris Johnson should take the vaccine on live television, and 22% neither agree nor disagree. Labour voters (64%) are marginally keener that the Prime Minister be vaccinated publicly than Conservative voters (56%), although a clear majority of the Prime Minister’s base favour him taking such actions.

Ultimately, the announcement that an approved vaccine will be distributed imminently has boosted optimism across Great Britain. Almost half of Brits are now convinced that the coronavirus crisis will be over in a year, and a slight plurality are confident about their personal prospects going into 2021. The proportion of the British public who are willing to be vaccinated remains stable, and many are willing to take the vaccine immediately, highlighting that most trust that the vaccine will be safe. Trust in the vaccine’s safety could be further improved if Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to be inoculated on live television.

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. Follow us on Twitter

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