What is public opinion in Sweden around coronavirus?

Matthew SmithLead data journalist
October 20, 2020, 9:18 AM UTC

We compare the country using YouGov’s COVID-19 trackers

One nation that has stood out from the crowd in their response to the coronavirus crisis is Sweden. It is well known as one of the few countries not to have instituted some form of national lockdown.

At time of writing Sweden has the 13th highest deaths per capita of any country in the world – worse than its Nordic neighbours, but less bad than Spain, Italy, the USA and UK.

Anyone expecting these figures to mean that Swedes see their government as a failure is sorely mistaken, however.

In fact, Anders Tegnell – the current state epidemiologist of Sweden and one of the architects of the nation’s coronavirus response – is incredibly popular in the country, with 65% rating him favourably. Fewer than a quarter (24%) have anything bad to say about him.

Similarly, Johan Carlsson - head of the Public Health Agency of Sweden, which is responsible for implementing the Swedish response to the pandemic - although less well known, is still perceived positively by twice as many people as have a negative view of him (45% vs 22%).

Most Swedes think the government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well (54%), compared to 39% who say it has handled it badly.

While this does not exactly place them high in the rankings – 12th of the 17 countries we have surveyed since late September – it is substantially higher than in countries that have taken stricter lockdown approaches like Spain (33%), the UK (32%) and France (29%). It is nevertheless less positive than regional neighbours Denmark (77%), Norway (75%) and Finland (65%).

Additionally, 69% of Swedes say they have a lot or a fair amount of confidence in national health authorities to respond to the outbreak. In Sweden this means something different to other countries; the Swedish constitution prohibits rule by ministerial decree and instead mandates that the relevant government body – in this case the Public Health Agency of Sweden, led by the aforementioned Carlson – take control of the situation. So, arguably, this could prove a better measure of the public’s feelings than the government handling question.

Swedes among least likely to be worried by the disease

Swedes are among the most optimistic that the coronavirus situation in their country is getting better. Until recently most Swedes believed things are on the up, more than any other Western nation (a situation that has been the case since early August) and many Asian countries.

With cases now rising again in Sweden, however, this slumped to 30% - a figure in line with its neighbours Denmark (34%) and Norway (31%), but still higher than the mainland European countries (9-17%).

 

Throughout the crisis Swedes have been among the least fearful of catching coronavirus. The proportion reporting themselves “very” or “somewhat” scared of contracting the disease peaked in mid-April at 53%, ranking 20th out of 26 countries.

As of mid-October only 41% are similarly afraid of being infected, a figure barely different from the 38% it had been in the prior survey, despite the dramatic shift in the number of people thinking the crisis is getting worse in Sweden. There is only one country surveyed in which fewer people are afraid of catching the disease: Finland, at 35%.

Doubtless because of the approach set out by the health authorities, far fewer Swedes are taking anti-coronavirus measures than elsewhere. Out of the countries surveyed, Swedes are:

  • Least likely to be wearing face masks – 9%
  • Least likely for using increased personal hygiene – 56%
  • Joint-least likely to be avoiding crowded places – 58%, tied with Denmark
  • Among the least likely to be avoiding tourists – 32%, as one of the bottom four countries where the rate is 23-32%
  • Among the least likely to be avoiding touching objects in public – 46%, as one of the bottom seven countries where the rate is 40-46%

See all of our international coronavirus tracker data here