Half of European Public Still Think the Worst of the Coronavirus Pandemic is Yet to Come

December 4, 2020
By The Redfield & Wilton Strategies Research Team
Coronavirus | Coronavirus Restrictions | France | Germany | Health | Italy | Spain
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As coronavirus cases surge again throughout Europe, strict measures—including curfews, lockdowns and states of emergencies—have been implemented in order to tackle the spread of the pandemic. In Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest European polling, conducted towards the end of November, we explored current attitudes towards the coronavirus crisis in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Across the four countries, the public is sharply divided on whether their respective Government has handled the coronavirus crisis well. In Spain, which has reported more than 1.6 million cases and over 45,000 deaths, less than a quarter (24%) think the Government has handled the crisis well, while two thirds (66%) do not think they have handled it well. The French public has a similarly negative perspective on their Government’s performance during the pandemic, with just a quarter (25%) saying the Government has handled the crisis well, and 62% saying they have not handled it well.

By contrast, although Italy has a similar case level than Spain and a higher death total, a slight plurality (46%) of the Italian public think their Government has handled the coronavirus crisis well. Likewise, in Germany, despite the fact that coronavirus case numbers are now increasing at a rapid rate, the majority (52%) believe the Government has handled the crisis well, perhaps owing to Germany’s earlier success in staving off the virus.

During November, cases in Germany exceeded the levels during the initial wave for weeks, and hospitals filled rapidly. Indeed, a majority (51%) of the German public consider that the worst is yet to come with respect to the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic, the highest proportion of any of the four nations we polled. The proportion of Germans who think the worst is yet to come has remained the same compared to our polling in early October. The greater levels of concern about the trajectory of the coronavirus in Germany is likely related to the fact that the nation was a relative success story during the first wave, by contrast to other European nations.

In France, Italy and Spain, less than half (43-48%) of respondents say the worst is yet to come. Compared to our polling in early October, pessimism has decreased in France—with 12% less now saying the worst is yet to come. Meanwhile, pessimism has increased in Italy in the last 2 months—8% more say the worst is yet to come than did in October. Although we did not engage in research in Spain in October, Spaniards are much more optimistic than they were in late August—at this stage 15% less say the worst is yet to come.

Ultimately, despite the severe impact that the coronavirus already had across western Europe during the initial wave of the pandemic, only 27% to 37% of those living in France, Germany, Spain and Italy think that the worst is behind us.

When our polling was conducted on 25 November, France was under a second national lockdown, Germany was under a partial lockdown, Italy was divided into a three-tier framework which included strict restrictions, and Spain was under a nationwide curfew and state of emergency. In France (54%), Germany (58%), and Italy (53%), a majority say that the level of difficulty in regard to following the rules of the lockdown this time is ‘the same’ as during the first lockdown in the spring. However, in Spain, less than half (42%) say it is the same. Significantly, in all four nations of study, a greater proportion believe it is harder to follow the rules of the lockdown this time, than say it is easier.

The difficulty that many have had in regard to following the rules of lockdowns is also indicated by the relatively significant minority of respondents who know somebody who has been fined in the last two months for breaking coronavirus restrictions. Over a quarter (28%) of Spaniards know someone who has been recently fined for breaking the lockdown rules, as well as 17% of French and Italian respondents and 12% of German respondents.

Moreover, a plurality (42-45%) of Spanish and Italian respondents think that it is likely they would be caught if they broke coronavirus restriction laws, highlighting that a significant proportion of the public in these countries perceive regulations to be strictly enforced by authorities. By contrast, a plurality (41-42%) of the public in France and Germany say it is unlikely that they would be caught if they broke coronavirus laws.

Public concern that those who break coronavirus restrictions are likely to be caught may have a positive impact on the level of compliance with the rules. A greater proportion of respondents in Spain (67%) and Italy (76%)—the countries where the public are most concerned about being caught—say they have fully followed the rules of their respective lockdowns since their implementation, than in Germany (64%) and France (54%). [1]

However, a significant proportion of respondents across the four countries say they have only “mostly” followed the rules. Overall, 46% in France, 36% in Germany, 33% in Spain, and 24% in Italy self-report a lack of complete compliance.

Despite a significant minority saying they have not “fully” followed the rules of the latest set of lockdowns, a majority (55-69%) in all four countries say that lockdowns will continue to be necessary until there is a vaccine or other solution. Moreover, less than a third (23-31%) say that we should not lockdown and must get used to living with the virus. Compared to early October, respondents in France, Germany, and Italy are more likely to view lockdowns as necessary until there is a vaccine.

Those in Spain and Italy (69%) are most likely to consider lockdowns necessary until a solution arrives. Furthermore, in these two countries, less than half (42%) believe it is acceptable for public figures to raise questions about the costs and benefits of a second nationwide lockdown. Meanwhile, a majority (50-54%) in France and Germany consider it acceptable for lockdowns to be questioned by public figures. Across all countries of study, significant minorities (26% to 38%) do not think it is acceptable for lockdowns to be questioned.

The European public is sharply divided on whether the decisions to enter lockdown again were determined by politics or science. In France and Spain, a slight plurality (44%) say that the decision to lockdown was primarily determined by politics, compared to more than two thirds (68%) in Germany. Nevertheless, 66% of Italians say the decision to lockdown was determined primarily by science. Ultimately, in three out of the four nations, more people now consider lockdown a political decision, than believe it is made primarily through scientific analysis.

Although the Italian and German public are strongly split on whether the decisions to lockdown are based on science or politics, a strong majority in both countries are in favour of their respective lockdowns continuing. In fact, German respondents (69%) are more likely than Italian respondents (61%) to favour a continued lockdown, emphasising that the overwhelming majority of the country is in favour of strict restrictions, regardless of whether or not they view them as a political decision. [2]

The French public are more sceptical about a continued lockdown, yet a majority (52%) still say it should be extended beyond its original end date. Across all three nations, only between 21% to 29% said that the lockdown should end on its scheduled end date.

Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of the French (67%), German (81%), and Italian (59%) public said that they expected their respective lockdowns to extend beyond their originally scheduled end date. [3]

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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[1] The original question we prompted to respondents varied depending on the date each country entered its latest iteration of ‘lockdown’. In Spain, the lockdown is commonly referred to as a state of emergency and curfew, which was reflected within our question.

[2] Answer codes were as follows:

  • Germany:
    • The lockdown should end on or before 30 November
    • The lockdown should continue beyond 30 November
    • Don’t know
  • France:
    • The lockdown should end on or before 1 December
    • The lockdown should continue beyond 1 December
    • Don’t know
  • Italy:
    • The lockdown should end on or before 3 December
    • The lockdown should continue beyond 3 December
    • Don’t know
  • Spain:
    • The lockdown should end on or before 1 December
    • The lockdown should continue beyond 1 December
    • Don’t know

[3] Answer codes were as follows:

  • Germany:
    • The lockdown should end on or before 30 November
    • The lockdown should continue beyond 30 November
    • Don’t know
  • France:
    • The lockdown should end on or before 1 December
    • The lockdown should continue beyond 1 December
    • Don’t know
  • Italy:
    • The lockdown should end on or before 3 December
    • The lockdown should continue beyond 3 December
    • Don’t know
  • Spain:
    • The lockdown should end on or before 1 December
    • The lockdown should continue beyond 1 December
    • Don’t know
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