How Americans, Britons, and Germans reacted to the coronavirus pandemic

YouGov has been tracking attitudes to coronavirus in Britain since lockdown began on 23 March, with our US tracker starting a few days later on 26 March, and in Germany on 30 April. We’ve highlighted a few key comparisons between the three countries.

Media coverage of coronavirus

In the US, Americans started out with a more positive than negative view of the media: on 1 April, 41 percent had a high opinion of the quality of coverage compared to 30 percent who had a low one.

For most of the time since then, Americans have been largely split on how good the quality of coverage has been, although starting from the second week of May there has been a clear lead in those who say it is ‘bad’. The most recent result shows 39 percent think coverage quality has been bad compared with 32 percent who say it is good.

On 1 April when the UK tracker for this question began, Britons actually tended to think the quality of media coverage of the coronavirus crisis was good, with 41 percent saying so compared to 27 percent who thought it was bad.

This state of affairs continued for about a week, at which point sentiment started to decline, with crossover taking place on 11 Apr when 34 percent of people said the quality was good and 35 percent bad.

The situation has only become worse since then, and by the time of the most recent tracker the proportion of Brits saying the quality of media coverage has been bad has reached 48 percent. Only 23 percent now think the media are doing a good job.

In Germany, by contrast, there is a much more positive view of the media. While our German tracker only began on 30 April, for the entire time period the number who think media coverage has been good far outnumber those who think it has been bad. At the most recent count, 39 percent of Germans label media coverage “good”, compared to only 22% who think it is “bad”.

Public perceptions of how seriously people are taking the outbreak

Through the span of the US survey, around half of Americans have felt people aren’t taking the disease seriously enough. The proportion who think they are has generally been closer to 30 percent.

And since early April, the proportion of Americans who think people are taking the pandemic seriously has been rising slowly but surely, and on 17 May reached parity with the number who think public attitudes are about right, at 24 percent apiece.

On 25 April, just two days into the UK lockdown, Britons overwhelmingly believed that people weren’t taking the crisis seriously enough, with 73 percent expressing such a view.

That figure rapidly dropped to around 50 percent by early April, before rebounding to around 60 percent a week later. It subsequently started to fall again, and in mid-April the number thinking the public wasn’t taking the crisis seriously enough fell below the number thinking they were taking things with an appropriate level of seriousness.

Since that point these two figures have criss-crossed, but since early May a wide gap has once again opened up with more than half of Britons once again believing their fellow countrymen aren’t taking the outbreak with the seriousness they should.

Our German tracker started on 30 April, and for just over a week there was a large gap between those who thought citizens were adequately serious about the crisis (48-50%) and those who believed people weren’t being serious enough (31-34%). On 9 May this gap suddenly vanished, with the adequate figure falling to 40 percent and the not serious enough figure jumping to 42 percent.

For a short period Germans were more likely to believe people weren’t being serious enough, followed by the reverse situation for about a week. As of the most recent survey, the figures are about tied.

Prioritizing saving lives versus the economy

Faced with the choice between trying to save every life and protecting the economy, Britons are the most likely to opt for the former. Almost two thirds of Britons (65%) in the most recent survey said they would prefer the government focus on saving lives, compared to 56 percent of Germans and 54 percent of Americans.

By contrast, only 13 percent of Britons prioritize the economy, a figure identical to that in Germany, and compared to 20 percent of Americans.

That being said, it is worth noting that in both America and Britain opinion has been slowly moving away from saving lives and toward protecting the economy. At the start of April the proportion of Brits wanting to save lives was eight percentage points higher, and likewise in the US it was fully 15 points higher.

Figures in Germany remain largely unchanged over the shorter time period we have been tracking attitudes there.

Economic recovery expectations

Americans are the most likely to think the economy will bounce back quickly after the crisis, with almost a quarter (24%) feeling this way at the last count. This is twice the figure in Britain (12%), with Germans in between at 19 percent

Germans, however, are the least pessimistic that the economy will be damaged in the long term. Only a quarter (24%) feel this way, compared to 30 percent of Americans and 39 percent of Britons.

Perceived likelihood of catching the disease

More than a third of Americans (37%) consider themselves unlikely to catch coronavirus, compared to 28 percent in Germany and 22 percent in the UK.

Germans are more likely to feel confident that they would recover from the virus, should they catch it. Almost three quarters (73%) are very or fairly confident that they could shake it off, compared to 65 percent of Americans and 62 percent of Britons.

Methodology: YouGov began tracking attitudes to coronavirus in the UK from 23 March to 17 May, 2020, in the US from 26 March to 17 May, 2020, and in Germany from 30 April to 17 May, 2020. Sample sizes vary day to day and by question and all results are weighted to be nationally representative to each country. All interviews are conducted online among adults aged 18 and over.

Read more on how COVID-19 impacts behaviors and opinions across the US

Image: Getty