Below is a complimentary Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

Howe: Global Mood Darkens on Covid-19 - 02.26.2020 black swan cartoon  3

Residents of most advanced economies believe they’re more divided now than before the pandemic began. Feelings of division have risen sharply since this question was asked in 2020. (Pew Research Center)

NH: What a difference a year makes.

Last August, I highlighted data showing that the U.S. and U.K. were the only countries out of 14 where residents said that their governments had done “a bad job” responding to the pandemic. (See “Government Response to Covid-19: Attitudes in 14 Countries.”)

Americans also stood out for being by far the most likely to say that their country had become more divided over the previous year.

All the other featured countries, from Germany to Canada to South Korea, were considerably more positive, with attitudes largely mirroring each nation’s respective death rate.

Fast forward to Spring 2021. Pew polled 17 advanced economics this time, 13 of which were also polled last year. The difference is stark. Public opinion has tanked. Assessments of government responses have darkened, and the sense of division has increased sharply.

The share who rate their country’s response to Covid-19 positively has dropped by double digits in many countries, with Germany (-37%) and the Netherlands (-29%) faring the worst.

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In general, opinions shifted most dramatically in North America and Europe. The Asia-Pacific region fared better.

Again, this was strongly correlated with the number of deaths.

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These results call to mind an earlier Pew survey (taken last winter) that showed that Europeans were much more trusting of the government than Americans. (See “Americans Eager for Major Political Reforms.”)

At the time, I pointed out that this was likely to go south as the pandemic entered the vaccine rollout phase. Surveys capture a moment in time--and when you’re dealing with something as fast-developing as Covid-19, opinions can change on a dime.

Last August, for instance, Taiwan residents gave their government some of the highest marks in this poll. The country had the world’s best record on the virus when it was conducted. But in the months since, following the country's first major outbreak, President Tsai’s approval rating has tumbled to a 21-month low.

Over time, views about the efficacy of government policy determine a society's sense of civic unity. And such views appear to be downwardly sticky.

While Americans are today giving their government much better marks for its Covid-19 response than they did last year, the civic mood continues to deteriorate.

It's the same story in the U.K., where perceptions of the pandemic response have also improved but its sense of unity hasn't. Once a country feels divided, it’s not easy for its residents to come back together.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.