What Worries the World: How has Covid-19 changed the outlook?

Local perspectives on our issues tracker during the pandemic.

The author(s)

  • Natalie Pearson Ipsos Knowledge Centre, UK
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The August 2021 results of our What Worries the World issues tracker highlighted the unstable pandemic environment around the world, with highly changeable scores for Coronavirus concern month-to-month.

Here we take a closer look at how the situation is developing and hear from Ipsos experts to provide the local context to our latest results.

Where are we now?

Globally, Covid-19 remains the top concern with 37% worldwide counting it among the top 3 most worrying issues facing their country today, according to our global country average. While it may still be at the top of the list of worries, this is nowhere near the peak of 61% seen in April 2020.

Of the 28 countries surveyed, we see the highest levels of public concern in Malaysia (83%), Japan (63%) and South Korea (58%). See top 10 below.

See the full ranking in our global summary report.

Malaysia

As the nation recording the highest level of public concern about Coronavirus in our survey for 11 straight months, Malaysia has seen another high of 83% in August 2021. Lars Erik Lie from Ipsos Public Affairs in Malaysia observes:

Malaysia’s concern about Covid has been relatively high compared to other countries in the What Worries the World survey ever since we started tracking it, even when the pandemic was fairly under control. This is harder to explain with data alone.

The current upswing is very much reflecting the situation on the ground, Lars tells us. After fending off the earlier waves of the virus rather successfully, the rate of cases has been extremely high since May, and the country has been close to a complete lockdown since then. The current wave has also been more severe, with an unprecedented number of patients in ICU and high numbers of fatalities. Covid has dominated the news cycle almost completely in the past few months and has been on everyone’s mind.

Returning to the question of why concern in Malaysia is so much higher than everywhere else, our team suggest there may be a ‘cultural factor’ at play, as people in Malaysia tend to be more concerned about the more immediate threats to them (similar to concern about crime and violence), than longer-term issues in society, such as poverty, access to healthcare and climate change.

South Korea

This month sees South Korea recording its highest level of Coronavirus concern so far in 2021, with six in 10 putting it in their top 3 issues today. Chanbok Lee, Head of Public Affairs in Ipsos in South Korea, says that the number of cases has sharply increased since July, reflecting the 11-point jump from 48% in June to 59% in August 2021. The What Worries the World data is reflecting how seriously people in South Korea are taking the situation.

Most Koreans have long been compliant with government measures against Covid-19 since the beginning of 2020… I’ve not seen a single person not wearing a facemask in public places here in Korea since May 2020.

Australia

With 58% in Australia saying Covid-19 is a top issue in August 2021, the nation is running at the highest level of concern for almost a year.

David Elliot, Deputy Managing Director, Public Affairs in ANZ tells us that the jump in concern around Coronavirus in Australia is not surprising: it is a clear reflection of the surge in case numbers driven by the Delta strain. In May 2021, Australia saw the Delta variant enter Sydney, resulting in a Greater Sydney lockdown that continues today. Case numbers have soared, and it has spread to other parts of the country. Greater Melbourne and parts of regional Victoria have been in and out of lockdowns throughout the year, with Melbourne beginning its sixth lockdown on the 5th of August.

Reflecting on the past few months, David says:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Australia has lived up to its moniker of ‘The Lucky Country’…
For many Australians, the low case numbers meant low perceived risk and therefore a lack of urgency regarding vaccination…
We entered 2021 feeling, in hindsight, overly optimistic about the year ahead and have quickly moved from thinking that Australia has avoided the mayhem seen around the world to a sense that this is real, and we can’t escape it.

The US

Coronavirus is once againthe most worrying issue for the public in the US. Between January and July of this year, Covid-19 steadily fell as a concern for Americans until it began rising again this month. Four in 10 Americans (40%) now say it is a top concern in their country today, up 15-points from last month.

Commenting on the results, Chris Jackson, Senior Vice President, Polling & Public Affairs from Ipsos in the US tells us:

For the first half of the year, we saw Americans became more optimistic about the pandemic due to the vaccination effort and falling Covid-19 cases, leading to a dip in Covid concern and a growing feeling that the country was moving in the right direction.

This summer, as the Delta variant spread, Covid-19 resurfaced as a top concern for Americans. People changed their behaviour as a result, with the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index finding that Americans were less likely to engage in activities outside of the home.

In the United States, when Covid isn’t a problem, the issue landscape becomes fractured, reflecting how divided the country is. After Covid dropped as a worry in the spring, other perennial issues, like crime or healthcare, grew in importance for Americans. These issues never consolidate majority support because they have a political lean; one party feels it’s a problem and the other side doesn’t. When Covid recedes as the main issue, these dynamics will likely reappear as well.

Looking forward

As we have seen the sense of an exit from the pandemic is one factor affecting public sentiment and optimism about the future.

Globally, 64% on average say that things in their country are on the wrong track, while 36% take the view that things are heading in the right direction.

This is a slightly more pessimistic picture than we saw at the start of the year (62% vs. 38%) and one year ago (57% vs. 43%).

As we move to concentrating on vaccination numbers and hitting the targets that see restrictions ease and eventually lockdowns lifted, I would expect to see our levels of optimism rise and return towards previous highs. However, if vaccination rates are slow or we see a chink in the protection they provide, optimism will waiver.

David Elliott, Deputy Managing Director, Public Affairs,
Ipsos in Australia & New Zealand

Read more in our main release of What Worries the World in August 2021 and look out for further analysis in coming months on other issues highlighted in our tracker.

The author(s)

  • Natalie Pearson Ipsos Knowledge Centre, UK

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