Trust and confidence in the government’s response to coronavirus declined significantly over the past six weeks, even before the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser was widely reported to have travelled to Durham during the lockdown, according to a major new survey.
King’s College London and Ipsos surveyed 2,254 people between 20 and 22 May to see how attitudes had shifted since a similar poll was carried out between 1 and 3 April, a week after the lockdown was announced.
How attitudes changed between 1-3 April and 20-22 May
- The proportion of people who trust the government to control the spread of Covid-19 declined by 18 percentage points, from 69% to 51%.
- The proportion who trust government information on coronavirus fell by 17 points, from 76% to 59%.
- 59% agreed that the government’s response had been confused and inconsistent, up 17 points from 42%. And three in 10 people strongly agreed – twice as many as in early April.
- 37% thought the government’s plan had adapted well in response to the changing scientific information and situation, down 21 points from 58%.
- 47% said they had found the government’s communication and advice on coronavirus helpful, down 21 points from 68%.
- 51% agreed the government’s advice on protecting yourself and others had been effective, compared with 69% previously – a fall of 18 points.
- 68% thought the government acted too slowly to control the spread of coronavirus, up 6 points from 62%.
Easing the lockdown and the measures announced on 10 May
- 38% support the new rules and plans announced on 10 May, while 38% oppose them. Support for this approach is far lower than that for the lockdown measures announced on 23 March, which nine in 10 people supported and seven in 10 strongly supported (although the questions are not exactly comparable).
- 54% think the government is relaxing the lockdown measures too quickly, twice as many as the 27% who think they are being eased at about the right pace.
- 56% of parents are uncomfortable with sending their child back to school when it happens, compared with 33% who are comfortable with it.
- People are more relaxed about returning to their workplaces, although the public is still divided on the issue, with 44% of workers feeling comfortable about returning and 41% feeling uncomfortable about it.
Misunderstandings of government guidelines
The survey also finds there is some confusion about the different guidelines in place across the countries that make up the UK:
- 51% of people in Scotland and 49% of people in Wales think they are allowed to meet up outside with one person who is not part of their household (the UK-wide figure is 77%) – but the Scottish and Welsh governments were still telling people not to mix households when meeting up.
- In England, 26% think all children will be able to go back to school on 1 June, when it is actually just early years pupils, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 who will be.
- 31% of people in Scotland think face masks or coverings must now be worn in all public places (the UK-wide figure is 22%), but the Scottish government only recommends doing so if you are entering enclosed spaces with other people, such as when taking public transport or entering a shop.
Testing and international comparisons
- 46% think the claim that the government is testing 100,000 people for coronavirus a day is false, compared with 35% who think it is true.
- 47% disagreed that the government has responded well to the Covid-19 outbreak compared with other countries, with one in five strongly disagreeing. By contrast, 29% agree the response compares favourably with other nations’.
- People were more evenly split on whether the government had done a good job of protecting UK residents, with 39% agreeing and 37% disagreeing. But 16% strongly disagreed, compared with 9% who strongly agreed.
Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:
While public opinion was united behind the government going into this crisis, it has fragmented as we begin to exit from it. Over the past six weeks, trust in the UK government’s ability to control Covid-19 and the information it provides has declined significantly, and there has been a big increase in the proportion of people who think the response has been confused and inconsistent – six in 10 now think this is the case, up from four in 10 at the beginning of April.
The current measures announced by the Prime Minister on 10 May seem to be part of the problem. Four in 10 people support these measures, compared with nine in 10 who supported the original lockdown. This reflects the over-riding importance the public still places on controlling the health impacts of the virus over of other wider societal impacts, with a majority saying we’re relaxing the measures too quickly and substantial concern about easing the rules, particularly among parents on sending their children back to school.
The original lockdown message was clear, simple and aligned with the very high level of concern about the virus among the large majority of the population. It was always going to be more difficult coming out of these measures, as the rules become more complicated, and people have increasingly different views of the risks. But the government needs to work hard to shore up faltering trust and confidence to make sure the public still listen to them and continue to follow their guidance.
Gideon Skinner, Research Director at Ipsos, said:
We know the public still believes the coronavirus poses a clear risk, and overall confidence in the NHS and most public services to respond to the crisis remains high. But the government is now having to navigate more complicated territory in its messaging, as it moves to a more conditional, step-by-step response to lifting the lockdown even while public opinion remains cautious. These results bear that out, with the public finding the new approach harder to follow. Furthermore, while ratings are down across most groups, we are also seeing a widening political gap in how people are reacting to the government’s approach, with criticism increasing particularly among Labour supporters.
Ipsos interviewed a sample of 2,254 adults aged 16-75 in the UK using its online i:omnibus between 20 and 22 May 2020 (including 191 in Scotland and 109 in Wales) and a sample of 2,250 adults aged 16-75 between 1 and 3 April. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All surveys are subject to a range of potential sources of error.