“Citizens’ Attitudes Under Covid19”, a cross-national panel survey of public opinion in 11 advanced democracies
To conclude the presentation of the CAUCP dataset, we present three key dimensions covered by our survey: compliance policy, attitude dynamicsand democratic accountability. We describe three key variables to study the potentially large and lasting effects of the Covid-19 crisis on social and political life.
Compliance with public health policies
Policy compliance related to Covid-19 is both a salient policy debate and a promising research agenda. Indeed, the preventive and sometimes restrictive policies put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic have been widely discussed in the public debate. We identify two dimensions of compliance policy: individual behavior (ie compliance with restrictive regulations) and acceptance/assessment of measures related to Covid-19 (ie support for policies restricting individual and civil liberties). Despite high political volatility, such as a decline (or shifts) in confidence and negative government assessments, levels of compliance with strict policies have remained high21.22 (Newton 2020). However, conformity is mediated by partisanship: support for parties in government leads to greater conformity23.24. The policy of complying with strict health policies is certainly influenced by individual and contextual factors. For example, patterns of compliance with “maintaining social distancing” diverge across countries, but also change over time (Fig. 2). Even in the case of New Zealand which has been less exposed to the coronavirus in terms of deaths, citizens are reacting to policies related to Covid-19 and adapting to government recommendations. Indeed, pandemic policies are the most visible policies: virtually all citizens are aware and informed of the restrictions related to Covid-19. This constitutes a unique area of research for assessing individual and contextual determinants of policy acceptance.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had wide-ranging consequences for public attitudes. Many pundits and commentators are speculating that Covid-19 could profoundly alter political divides. The pandemic can also polarize or depolarize democratic societies. Alternatively, the political impact of the pandemic may be sectoral only, i.e. limited to specific dimensions related to the crisis. Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic may not be an influential crisis, as far as citizens’ attitudes are concerned, compared to previous major crises, such as geopolitical shocks or economic crises. Still, the results suggest that the pandemic has triggered important shifts in attitude, which however mask heterogeneity at the individual level within each country in our sample (e.g. Galasso et al. find significant attitudinal differences between the sexes during the crisis25). What are the factors behind these changes in attitude? As new issues have appeared on the public agenda, it is also possible to study the formation of attitudes. In addition, many psychological traits, such as personality characteristics, risk perception, emotions, are expected to influence political attitudes. More so, the huge amount of (mis)information about the Covid-19 pandemic may also have influenced political attitudes. Indeed, previous findings found evidence that different information consumption patterns affected levels of trust and compliance with Covid-19 restrictions.22. The descriptive results of the CAUCP survey tend to indicate that the pandemic has not transformed global political preferences. Indeed, the average ideological preferences (Left-Right scale in 11 points) are stable over the waves of the panel, and the polarization seems unchanged (measured roughly with the standard deviation of the Left-Right scale). While one political anchor such as ideology has remained stable throughout the crisis, other attitudes tend to fluctuate over time and across contexts. For example, preferences for border closures have evolved during the crisis, although in contrasting directions (Fig. 3).
More so, the political consequences of the pandemic appear to be mediated by anxiety rather than a cognitive trigger of the political “rally” effect.26. The CAUCP offers a promising research program in political psychology with a large battery of questions on emotions and social interactions.
Studying the consequences of the Covid19 pandemic in terms of democratic accountability represents a rich research agenda. Citizens’ responses to unprecedented pandemic policies, and the expected economic crisis that follows, are crucial to understanding how democracies work and will most likely be multifaceted (voting behavior, trust and evaluation of institutions and policies, assignment of blame) . For example, early findings on citizens’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic show a “rally around the flag effect”27.28. However, this effect must be nuanced since it is neither universal29 nor as enduring as the crisis lasts30or rather produce a ‘crisis signal effect that benefits incumbents‘31. Research suggests the pandemic has led to stronger support or satisfaction with governments and their policies – largely influenced by levels of trust and partisanship32. CAUCP data confirms that citizens’ political response is complex and context-dependent. Regarding satisfaction with the government’s handling of the Covid19 crisis, we observe significant temporal and national variations (Fig. 4). Indeed, in the different countries, the level of satisfaction is extremely high (Australia, New Zealand, Austria), average (France, Italy, USA), or globally low (Brazil, Poland). Moreover, satisfaction trends are either increasing (Australia), stable (France, New Zealand) or decreasing (Sweden, United Kingdom). In addition to attitudes toward government, social science research should further investigate the electoral consequences of the crisis. Indeed, local health contexts and corresponding health policies have affected turnout rates in several European local elections, increasing turnout in some cases.33 or depressing it in others34.35. Additionally, the Covid19 pandemic has influenced voting behavior, generally in favor of incumbents and green parties in local elections.36. How consistent are these patterns? Are they dependent on the context of the pandemic and the political response? Are they valid for national and local elections? Such questions allow to explore promising avenues of research on the effects of hindsight voting choice on attitudes, as well as on the consequences of the crisis on prospective voting choice and actual electoral behavior as three countries have organized national elections in 2020 (United States, New Zealand, and Poland). Assessing the importance of individual-level health and economic circumstances on political behavior and attitudes is a promising avenue of research, as most studies to date have examined these issues at the aggregate level.