Around the world, there are an increasing number of protests, some recurring weekly, against government-instituted lockdowns and other restrictions.
These demonstrations do not seem to be related to any given country’s performance in managing COVID-19, comparing the number of protests with the number of reported cases and the number of deaths in each country.
In fact, some of the larger protests against lockdowns have occurred in Germany, where hundreds of people continue to gather weekly in public areas against WHO guidelines starting in April and continuing into May. This in spite of the fact that Germany, in particular, has been praised for its decisive response, boasting one of the lowest death rates thus far.
Although the protesters are in the minority, it is still important for governments and health organizations to identify the motivations for resistance to what is otherwise largely accepted as best practices and well-founded guidance.
Thus, Premise decided to dive into our sentiment data to see how people around the world view their local government’s response to COVID-19.
The graph above identifies four country case studies over the time period of April 5 – May 5, 2020: The United States, Brazil, Iraq and Germany—chosen because all four have experienced significant anti-lockdown protests during this time period, despite their very different locations and government responses to coronavirus. The number of survey respondents in the USA, Iraq, and Brazil is above 3,000 in each country. As such, for these countries, we could do a very robust analysis to understand the overall sentiment and its change over time. For Germany, however, we have a significantly smaller sample size of 367 causing a higher margin of error and making the analysis less robust. Despite this limitation, we chose to include Germany in this analysis due to its recognized response to manage Coronavirus and its relatively high turnout to protests.
In each country, around 50% believe the measures taken were severe but necessary. However, nearly 30% of Contributors in Germany feel that the severe measures taken were an overreach. Whereas less than 20% of Contributors in the U.S., Brazil and Iraq agree.
Interesting also are those who felt their local governments did not do enough: Contributors in the U.S., Brazil and Iraq record similar figures as those who disagree with the strong measures taken entirely. This is again in sharp contrast to Germany, who during this fixed time period had no Contributors respond that their local governments were not taking any measures, unlike the other three countries where a very small fraction of Contributors believe their local governments have taken no action, and need to.
Yet, German Chancellor Angela Merkl’s federal response to COVID-19 has received a great deal of media attention and admiration. This contrast in public support for local measures, however, paints a very different picture of the situation on the ground, in addition to the protests that have violated social distancing guidelines to the extent that some protesters were arrested on Saturday, April 25th.
Further analysis of the change in sentiment over time shows that as more time passes, Contributors indicate a gradual increase in support for severe measures, and fewer believe it is an overreaction. Nonetheless, two of the most chosen responses indicate that Contributors in all four countries agree the measures taken have been severe. It may be worth further investigation as to what measures, in particular, rankle the general populace, as this is not totally clear from the current data set, nor what has motivated more people to support measures that are generally agreed to be severe albeit necessary.
As the U.S. endures increasing numbers of coronavirus deaths, there is a gradual increase in supporters of the severe measures, but—as in Brazil, where there is support from some political leadership to lift lockdown restrictions—the number of those who believe the strict measures go too far remains relatively the same.
In Iraq, protests in early April were linked to multiple factors external to COVID-19, and there was a significant reduction in the number of Contributors who considered the severity of the measures taken as overreaction over the month.
A major factor in the unrest since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 has been frequent allegations of misinformation and disinformation. In a separate set of surveys analyzing trustworthiness for specifically COVID-19 related news, Premise was able to analyze recent shifts in both trust of government as well as trust in government media.
In Premise’s recent regional focus on Latin America, Premise learned that unofficial news sources, such as social media, as well as non-governmental official sources such as the WHO, are becoming increasingly more favored and trusted over all forms of government-sponsored media.
However, in another recent global collection, 77% of Premise Contributors across the globe identified Facebook as a social media outlet on which they had observed misinformation being spread. Facebook has responded with a number of new tools to attempt to combat the spread of misinformation, but this is all the more critical as people are relying more and more on social media as a primary source of news.
While monitoring trustworthiness in news and government is critical, equally so is keeping a finger on the pulse of the public. As workers in healthcare and medical research continue to search for more effective methods to manage the novel coronavirus, it is still critical for governments and official health organizations to be cognizant of the sentiment toward measures to not only reduce transmission of the coronavirus, but better communicate their decisions for an unsettled and anxious public.
Initiatives taken by leaders such as Jacinda Arden of New Zealand, Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland, and Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore all point to transparency and communication as the primary keys to their success.
In the now famous address, Chancellor Merkl said of the restrictions enacted on public life: “In a democracy, such curbs should not be enacted lightly – and only ever temporarily. But at the moment they are essential in order to save lives.” And while she has undoubtedly done well in the eyes of the global community, it may take time—and a few more addresses—to win the hearts and minds of the German people.
Visit our Global Impact Study page to stay up-to-date on all the coronavirus data collected by Premise.