The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all countries around the world to adjust to an unprecedented public health crisis, with some coping better than others. As the consequences of this pandemic on poverty, hunger, and the United Nations’ Global Goals become more apparent, its longer-lasting impacts on society at large are also starting to emerge.
That's precisely what international initiative More in Common sought to understand in a recent study.
By exploring the attitudes of 14,000 people in the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and Italy, researchers assessed the impact of COVID-19 on trust, social cohesion, democracy, and expectations for an uncertain future.
The findings, published in a study titled The New Normal? point to growing hopes for profound change to take place after the pandemic, as well as a new sense of compassion, solidarity, and shared humanity in some of the hardest-hit countries. Researchers also found that most people want their governments to prioritize health care, employment, and the environment as part of their recovery efforts.
However, these rather optimistic findings are counterbalanced by heightened mistrust in government institutions, as well as significant anxiety about political instability and polarization — especially in the US. In other countries, disappointment over how the government has handled the crisis has led some to believe that no lasting change will ever occur.
Here's a snapshot of the findings in each of the seven countries — and what they mean for Global Citizens as the world grapples with the aftermath of the pandemic.
While a majority of French people followed lockdown rules and reported a higher feeling of empathy to one another during the pandemic, researchers found that France had one of the highest levels of disappointment with the government’s handling of COVID-19.
According to the study, 6 out of 10 French people blame government leaders for their actions during the pandemic, with wealthy people coming a close second.
Moving forward, French people want significant change to happen to improve the health care system, reduce unemployment, protect the environment, and support small businesses. Climate action, in particular, appeared to be one of the top priorities of activists across the country.
Still, very few people expect major transformations to occur — and 70% of people “doubt that much will change after the pandemic is over.”
Along with the Netherlands, Germany appears to be somewhat of an outlier in this study.
Germans expressed greater satisfaction with the way their leaders have dealt with the pandemic — and, in contrast with European countries, national trust in the government has increased by 28%.
Although an overwhelming majority of the population (79%) expressed concern about the economic consequences of COVID-19, over 1 in 3 Germans said they would be ready to pay a higher income tax to help finance the recovery of their country. Similarly, 35 % said they would be “open to paying higher taxes on gasoline or car ownership to help protect the environment.”
Researchers also found that, while 1 in 2 people in Germany see COVID-19 as an opportunity to bring significant changes to the way their country operates, most still doubt the likelihood of seeing substantial changes made in the future.
The United States
Although safeguarding the integrity of the upcoming 2020 presidential election emerged as one of the top priorities for Americans, people in the US were found to be the most optimistic about their own power to create change amid the pandemic.
“Four in 5 Americans believe that citizens can change society through their decisions and actions, a greater degree of confidence than in any other country surveyed,” the report read.
On average, COVID-19-related information from scientific and news sources is deemed trustworthy by most of the population, but the study highlighted a growing mistrust in the government as well as in others. More than half of Americans believe the government is hiding information about COVID-19, and 40% of the population say the pandemic has made them less trustful of their fellow citizens.
According to the study, more than 7 in 10 people also said the US was now more divided than before the pandemic.
Looking ahead, Americans expressed a desire to improve the US health care system, fight crime and violence, reduce unemployment, and address racism.
The United Kingdom
Like most European countries, people in the UK report a stronger sense of concern and empathy towards one another as a result of the pandemic — particularly when it comes to its impact on racial, religious, and ethnic minorities.
An overwhelming desire for change has also emerged among Britons, with 64% of the population hoping that the pandemic would result in a countrywide transformation to improve the NHS, the economy, and better protect the environment.
The study also revealed that most people expect the government and the private sector to be held accountable for their actions for a fairer society — including by “paying their taxes, reducing carbon emissions, onshoring jobs, paying fair wages, and imposing salary caps on CEOs.”
Likewise, while only 5% of the population thinks that the government is “doing too much on the environment,” 3 in 4 people expressed support for a Green New Deal initiative.
With Italy being one of the hardest-hit countries by the pandemic, Italians have particularly suffered from the consequences of COVID-19 on a personal level. Job loss and fear over an uncertain financial future appeared to be some of the top concerns among the majority of the population.
And while many Italians (47%) are disappointed in their government’s handling of the pandemic, trust in the health care and welfare system has significantly improved, the study shows.
Similarly to their European counterparts, Italians expressed an appetite for change and reduced inequalities in the aftermath of the pandemic — but many are also “quite pessimistic on whether this opportunity will be seized”, according to the study.
To overcome the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and climate change, a majority (62%) of Italians believe that international cooperation with other countries and global institutions is crucial.
In stark contrast with Italy and other European countries, people in the Netherlands expressed a high degree of satisfaction over the way their leaders have responded to the crisis, researchers found. And while the pandemic has given rise to a number of concerns among the population, worries about job loss or financial hardship were among the lowest in Europe.
As a result, most people do not hope for any drastic changes to take place after the pandemic — and 54% of the population only wishes for things to “go back to normal.”
Top political priorities in the Netherlands included improving the health care system, reducing unemployment, and supporting individuals and families in need.
In a similar fashion to the US, Poland is strongly divided along party lines. Debates surrounding the election postponement have dominated public attention, leading COVID-19 to take a backseat in the national discourse — and resulting in different perceptions of the government’s response to it, the study found.
“Approval of the government (or lack thereof) largely determines perceptions of the crisis, its effects, and evaluations of the government’s response,” the report reads. “The split extends even to personal experiences.”
However, this polarized picture is nuanced by stronger feelings of care and concern for others, as well as demands for change that echoed the ones voiced by other European countries.
Support for a Green New Deal initiative was found to be widespread among Poles, with health care system reform and unemployment also listed as some of the most pressing post-COVID-19 priorities.
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