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27 August 2020

Survey: US and UK publics are most pessimistic about their governments’ responses to Covid-19

A Pew Research Centre poll of 14 countries shows that nations hit hardest by Covid-19 are more likely to judge their governments' performance poorly.

By Ido Vock

The populations of countries with more coronavirus cases and deaths per capita are more but not uniformly  likely to say their governments have done a bad job dealing with the pandemic, according to new research by the Pew Research Centre.

The publics of the US and UK, the two countries with the most deaths of the 14 polled, are most pessimistic about their governments’ performances. By contrast, just 5 per cent of Danes and 6 per cent of Australians say their country has had a poor response.

People in countries with more coronavirus cases think their countries did worse
Coronavirus cases vs percentage who say their country has done a bad job

Source: New Statesman analysis of Pew Research Center survey results and Our World in Data figures

A clear outlier is Japan, which despite very low cases and deaths relative to population is judged by 43 per cent of its population to have dealt badly with Covid-19. By contrast, the populations of some harder-hit countries are more lenient towards their governments’ responses, such as Belgium, which has the highest rate of deaths per capita of the countries polled but where 61 per cent say the government response was good.

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Some of the discrepancy in the polling, which was conducted this summer, may be explained by whether countries were severely impacted early on in the pandemic but have since experienced low case levels, or whether they recently experienced sharp hikes in cases as people were being polled.

People in countries with more coronavirus deaths think their countries did worse
Coronavirus deaths vs percentage who say their country has done a bad job

Source: New Statesman analysis of Pew Research Center survey results and Our World in Data figures

Italy, the worst-affected country in the early months of the pandemic, is judged by just 24 per cent to have done a bad job, possibly because it has seen daily cases drop to the hundreds since May. Japan, by contrast, has recently experienced the start of a second wave of infections larger than the first, which may suggest that respondents judged the government’s recent performance negatively.

The findings reinforce that the fight against coronavirus is a marathon, not a sprint. Countries which were blindsided by the virus early on, such as Italy and Spain, subsequently suppressed infections to low levels and have seen publics warm to their responses. Countries which saw cases rise sharply in the summer are more likely to be judged negatively.

The research will reassure governments currently perceived as having failed to get a grip on the virus, such as the UK, as the New Statesman has exposed. Better performance in the future could shift perceptions of this crisis, the most acute phase of which will last for months more.