Optimism About 2021 Depends Heavily on Perception of Resolving COVID19

Most Plan on Staying Close to Home, Likely to Avoid Travel and Events in First Half of Next Year

The author(s)

  • Darrell Bricker Global CEO, Public Affairs
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Toronto, ON, December 31, 2020 – Canadians are ready to close the books on a year that many would sooner forget, and with the first vaccines against COVID-19 now being administered across the country, many are looking ahead to 2021 with a feeling of hope.

New Ipsos polling for Global News finds that a majority of Canadians – nearly three in four (72%) – feel generally optimistic about the year ahead (15% very/57% somewhat). However, this depends heavily on how quickly they see COVID-19 being brought under control in Canada: nearly nine in ten (86%) of those who think COVID-19 will be controlled by the end of next year express optimism about 2021. Those who don’t think the spread of the virus will be curbed by then are far more gloomy, with just 38% saying they are optimistic about next year.

There is a widespread sense of realism that the pandemic will not go away any time soon, yet many are confident that things will be better a year from now than they are today: while only 58% are optimistic that Canada will get COVID-19 under control by next summer, seven in ten (70%) are optimistic that the virus will be under control by the end of 2021.

Though light may be visible at the end of the tunnel as far as the virus is concerned, the economic toll from the pandemic is likely to take even longer to recover from. The survey finds that Canadians are much more divided when it comes to how they personally – and we, collectively – will emerge from this crisis. Though six in ten (61%) are optimistic (12% very/49% somewhat) that their family will be in a better position post-COVID than it was prior to COVID, four in ten (39%) are pessimistic about this being the case – rising to more than half of respondents in Alberta (54%). Just over half of Canadians (56%) express optimism that Canada will come back strong than it was prior to COVID-19, leaving nearly half (44%) who take a more pessimistic view.

Canadians who are optimistic about 2021 are more likely to see this optimism carry through to other perceptions: they are significantly more likely to be optimistic that Canada will get COVID-19 under control by the end of 2021 (84% vs. 34% of those who feel pessimistic about next year) or even as early as the summer (73% vs. 19%), that their family will be in a better position after the pandemic than before (73% vs. 32%), and that Canada will come back stronger than before the pandemic (70% vs. 23%).  

Cautious re-engagement

Any economic recovery will depend in part on Canadians’ willingness to re-engage with the economy, and the survey finds that many remain reluctant to do too much too soon. Even if these activities are permitted in the first half of 2021, a majority say they are unlikely to do any of the following:

  • Attend a live sporting event: 76%
  • Travel outside of Canada: 73%
  • Attend a live concert, festival or play: 68%
  • Go to a movie theatre: 60%
  • Stay in a hotel: 59%
  • Travel outside their province, but within Canada: 56%

What are Canadians willing to do in the first six months of 2021? Not much more than they’re doing right now: three in four (74%) say they’re likely to shop in a mall if permitted, and more than two in three (68%) would eat in a sit-down restaurant. While this is encouraging news for the restaurant industry, which has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, sectors like events, travel, tourism will need to hold on for longer.

On a more positive note, those who feel optimistic about 2021 are significantly more likely to say they’ll do any of these activities in the first half of next year if permitted. Expect younger Canadians to lead the charge on economic re-engagement: 18-34-year-olds are significantly more likely than older Canadians to say they will take part in activities like going to the movies (53%), travelling within Canada (49%) or outside the country (36%), or attending a live concert, festival or play.

Focusing on what matters most

The hard truth about 2021 is that nobody knows for certain if and when things will regain some semblance of normality. Faced with this, most Canadians are opting for a cautious approach to the new year, with a renewed focus on what matters most. Asked to what they are most likely to prioritize in 2021, Canadians overwhelmingly opt for saving their money over spending it (86%vs. 14%), staying home instead of travelling (74% vs. 26%), and family over work or school (71% vs. 29%). Though some see the pandemic as an opportunity to change up their priorities and goals (31%), a majority (69%) say they want continuity, prioritizing working toward their existing goals.

Muted optimism over Canada’s prospects of bouncing back stronger than ever post-pandemic can be seen as a tacit criticism of the federal government’s handling of the situation since COVID-19 first began. Indeed, Canadians are split almost right down the middle on what type of government they wish to support in the new year, with 54% supporting a government that spends to support economic recovery and 46% supporting one that works to get spending under control. This suggests that while there is still majority support for the overall federal approach to guiding Canada through the pandemic, many are concerned about rising spending with no firm end date in sight.

Missing their colleagues, but happy to keep working from home

Many Canadians saw their work habits disrupted in 2020, and the trend is set to continue well into 2021. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though most (69%) of those who have worked from home over the past year say they miss being with their colleagues in person, even more (78%) agree they’ve enjoyed working from home more often in 2020.

Whether working from home or elsewhere, few are looking to cut back on their workload just yet, especially if it means taking a pay cut: only one in three (34%) agree they would be fine earning 20% less money if it meant they could work 20% fewer hours than they currently do.

Looking ahead, about half (52%) of those who have worked from home in 2020 expect to return to the office on a regular basis in 2021, but only half (50%) actually want to go back – rising to 69% among those aged 18-34.

Differing viewpoints on whether to stay home or head back to the office next year likely aren’t due solely to concerns around COVID. Though much has been written about 2020 having prompted a surplus of mandatory downtime as many employers shut down completely, working Canadians are just as likely to have found themselves overstretched this year: asked if they have achieved a better work-life balance in 2020, nearly half (48%) disagree – an opinion that is remarkably consistent across age, gender, income, and regional lines.  

About the Study

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between December 11-14, 2020, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Darrell Bricker

CEO, Ipsos Global Public Affairs

+1 416 324 2001


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The author(s)

  • Darrell Bricker Global CEO, Public Affairs