German Public Increasingly Critical of Merkel’s Coronavirus Handling, but Increasingly Optimistic That The Pandemic Will Soon Be Over

May 13, 2021
R&WS Research Team
Angela Merkel | Coronavirus | German Politics
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Germany is currently in the midst of a severe third wave of coronavirus infections, with lockdown restrictions expected to remain in place until June. But, after a troubled start, Germany’s vaccination programme has now steadily gathered pace, with almost 30% of the total population having received at least one dose of a vaccine. With the vaccine rollout finally advancing and the summer fast approaching, the German public appears to be increasingly hopeful about the future: research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds 49% of German respondents say they believe the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over in Germany, up from 39% in February 2021 and 29% in November 2020. 

The proportion of respondents who believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come has decreased from 51% in November 2020 to 30% in our latest poll. Notably, however, the proportion of 18-to-24-year-olds who say the worst of the pandemic is yet to come has increased to 49% from 31% in November. The 18-to-24-year-old age group has accordingly shifted from being the least to the most likely to say the worst is yet to come, perhaps as a result of their low priority status for receiving vaccinations or of their opposition to the continuation of lockdown measures.

Although a plurality of respondents now believe the worst of the pandemic itself is behind us, half (49%) of Germans continue to think the worst of the pandemic’s economic effects are still yet to come. On the other hand, a third (33%) of respondents alternatively say the worst of the economic consequences are behind us—an increase from 24% in February 2021 and 21% in November 2020—suggesting that hopes for an imminent economic recovery are gradually increasing.  

In the past two months, the period during which the majority of Germany’s vaccinations have been administered, the proportion of respondents who agree that the coronavirus crisis will likely to be over this time next year has increased slightly from 37% in late February to 41% in early May. Approximately a quarter (27%) disagree, including a third (33%) of those aged 65 and over. 

Meanwhile, the proportion of respondents who say they are actively scared of contracting coronavirus and consider it a genuine possibility when they go outside has also increased slightly from 36% in November 2020 and 31% in February 2021 to 39% in our latest poll. Still, half (50%) of Germans say they are not actively scared of contracting coronavirus. 

Mirroring results we found in other countries such as France and the United States, 35-to-44-year-olds (45%) and 45-to-54-year-olds (45%) are now the most likely to say they are actively scared of contracting coronavirus, which is likely related to these age groups’ lower vaccination rates. 

When asked to consider how they felt a year ago, in March and April of 2020, a majority (59%) of respondents continue to say they are now equally as scared of contracting coronavirus as they were at the start of the pandemic. However, the proportion of respondents who now feel less scared of contracting the virus has increased from 22% in February 2021 to 31% in our latest poll. 

With respect to feelings of safety in specific situations, a majority of Germans now say they would feel safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar outside (60%), shopping for clothing (56%), and going to a barber or hair salon (53%). These figures represent a considerable improvement from February 2021 when, for instance, just 40% said they would feel safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar outside. That being said, a majority continue to say they would feel unsafe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar inside (58%), going to the gym (64%), using public transport (65%), and traveling to another country (64%).    

Although the vaccine rollout has had a clear impact on German respondents’ perceptions of safety and their optimism about a light at the end of the tunnel, public opinion about the German Government’s performance during the pandemic has not experienced similar improvements. In fact, 60% of Germans now say the German Government has not handled the coronavirus crisis well, up from 51% in February 2021, 37% in November 2020, and 21% in May 2020. Just 29% of respondents now say the German Government has handled the crisis well, compared to 68% a year ago in May 2020. 

A further 52% Germans also say they do not believe the Government is currently taking the right measures to address the coronavirus pandemic, up slightly from the 47% who said the same in February 2021. Just over a third (35%) of respondents say they believe the German Government is currently taking the right measures. 

While half of Germans believe the Government is not taking the right measures to address the pandemic, a plurality (42%) of respondents also say the current Government restrictions in place are ‘about right.’

However, the proportion of respondents who believe the restrictions are ‘about right’ has decreased ten points since February 2021 (52%). Furthermore, in our latest poll, the share who believe restrictions are too restrictive (34%) and the share who believe restrictions are too relaxed (24%) have increased from 31% and 17% respectively in February, showing there is a growing sense of frustration on both sides.  

Reflecting the considerable 34% of respondents who believe the Government’s restrictions are too restrictive, 43% of respondents say the Government’s approach to easing restrictions has been too cautious. Indeed, there have been numerous large-scale protests in Germany in support of this position. Conversely, 29% think the Government has been too impatient, whereas only 28% feel the Government has struck the right balance in its approach to easing restrictions. 

While a significant share of the German public is frustrated by the Government’s restrictions, an even greater proportion are displeased with its vaccine rollout: 63% of Germans say they are not satisfied with Germany’s vaccination programme so far.

Nevertheless, the proportion of respondents who are satisfied with Germany’s vaccination programme has increased significantly from 23% in February to 37% in our latest poll, reflecting the recent progress that has since been made in vaccinating the German population.

Still, the majority of the German public has not yet been offered a coronavirus vaccine. Among such individuals, 60% say they will get vaccinated if a vaccine becomes available to them at little to no financial cost within the next year. A quarter (26%) says they will not get themselves vaccinated, indicating a degree of vaccine scepticism.

Among the 60% who do intend to be vaccinated, three-quarters (74%) say it does matter to them which specific vaccine they receive. The specific vaccine matters in particular to 35-to-44-year-olds (87%), though a strong majority of all age groups say it matters to them. 

The extensive proportion of Germans who feel it matters which vaccine they receive is likely a by-product of concerns surrounding rare blood clots associated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. To this point, 58% of German respondents say they would feel unsafe taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, up from 47% in February. On the other hand, 31% say they would feel safe taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, a proportion which has not changed meaningfully in the last two months.  

In light of the blood clot confusion, 35-to-44-year-olds have switched from being the least likely to say they would feel unsafe taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (42%) in February to now being the most likely to say they would feel unsafe (67%). 

The proportion of respondents who say they would feel unsafe taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has also increased since we last polled the German public in February, this time from 35% to 43%. Overall, only 38% of the German public says they would feel safe taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

By contrast, there has been an increase since February in those who would feel safe taking the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (from 64% to 72%) and the Moderna vaccine (from 50% to 56%). 

A majority of Germans continue to say they would feel unsafe taking Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine (57%) and China’s SinoVac vaccine (61%), both of which are not approved for use in the European Union. 

The results from our latest poll show that the German public has become increasingly frustrated with its Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and its vaccine rollout, and that it has considerable concerns about the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in particular. Despite the vaccination programme’s slow start, however, Germans are increasingly feeling the worst of the pandemic is over and the pandemic itself will be over by this time next year. Coupled with increased feelings of safety in certain public spaces such as outdoor dining or shopping settings, our research finds there is a growing sense of optimism among the German public as summer approaches.

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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