The Crisis Hits the UK

March 27, 2020
Coronavirus | Healthcare

When Redfield & Wilton Strategies first conducted a poll in the United Kingdom on the coronavirus crisis on the 13th of March, the total number of confirmed cases numbered in the hundreds. Our next poll in the country was 10 days later, when confirmed cases had increased tenfold, and was completed just half an hour before Prime Minister Boris Johnson sternly announced his order to all UK residents to stay at home except for essential purposes and a daily exercise. Due to a shortage of testing, unofficial cases even then were likely to be significantly higher than the thousands then reported.

Between our two polls, concern about the coronavirus had increased significantly. On a scale of 1 to 5, a majority of respondents rated their level concern at either a 4 or 5, compared to just 17% 10 days prior.

More noticeably, respondents’ estimation of the threat of the virus had changed quite dramatically, with three quarters of respondents now saying the virus was more dangerous than the seasonal flu.

Initially, it appeared that the Government’s strategy was to gradually move towards more stringent measures. Advisers to the Government seemed resigned to letting the majority of the UK population contract the virus and that shutdowns would simply lead to the same endpoint, only later on. Respondents to our first poll seemed uncertain as to whether this reasoning made sense. In our latest poll, however, respondents seemed to prefer this gradual approach with a quarter of respondents disagreeing.

A similar proportion of respondents expressed their approval of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approval of the coronavirus outbreak.

Yet, as several commentators such as Matthew Goodwin have noted, support for leaders and institutions tend to increase during times of crisis, regardless of whether their leaders are actually making the right decision or not. Popularity during a crisis may therefore not be a reliable indicator of how well a political leader is performing––although unpopularity almost certainly confirms a poor performance.

Surveying the situation altogether, respondents were quite pessimistic about the near future development of the outbreak and the overall crisis.

And, in fact, they altogether expected the crisis to last three to six months.

Despite this lengthy estimation, respondents overwhelmingly said they would support the imposition of the strictest measures as were already being enforced across Europe. Such social-distancing measures were indeed announced shortly after the poll concluded, with 66% of respondents

And a significant plurality of respondents said they were willing to tolerate such measures as long as the Government thought necessary, even if such measures lasted longer than two months. Another 10% said they would be willing to tolerate such measures for two months, and nearly 20% were willing to go a month.

As our polls have tracked the increasing concern of the UK public towards this virus, it has also caught the widespread readiness of the UK public to meet the challenges of this crisis. When the Prime Minister solemnly announced his shutdown on Monday, he found a public more than ready to heed his words.

This poll is part of Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ ongoing research into public opinion on the coronavirus outbreak and government’s reaction to the crisis. Further results from our polling in the UK, USA, Italy, France, Spain and Germany is featured here.


Data tables for this research can be found here. 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.