According to a new Pew survey, fully 77% of Americans believe that the country is further divided as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a significantly higher share than in the thirteen other developed nations surveyed; the U.S. (along with the U.K.) also stood out in how negatively it rated the government’s response to the outbreak. (Pew Research Center)
NH: Pew interviewed respondents on Covid-19-related topics from June 10 to August 3 in fourteen high-income nations.
The results really speak for themselves. So without any ado, let's jump in.
Among the fourteen, a majority of respondents in all but two--the U.S. and the U.K.--believe their country has "done a good job" in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
In the U.S. (52%) and the U.K. (54%), a majority say "bad job." In Spain, Japan, France, and Belgium, over a third say "bad job." In all the other countries, the public is much more positive.
Answers to this question basically reflect each country's quantitative success as measured by cumulative deaths per capita. Among the fourteen, Belgium ranks number one in death rate, Spain number two, U.K. number three, U.S. number five, and France number six.
If we look at the death rate over the last three months (June, July, and August), however, the U.S. looks much worse than all the others--which may help explain why American attitudes are so negative.
While Japan has suffered very few per-capita deaths, Japanese respondents may be reacting negatively to other developments: a rising (second-wave) death trend in August; an economy in deep recession since last fall; and Abe Shinzo's steep approval decline.
How much has Covid-19 changed everyday life? Overall in the fourteen, 58% say a great deal/fair amount and 42% say not too much/not at all.
In general, the countries that are most negative about the performance of their governments say that Covid-19 has done more to change everyday life.
Is your country more divided or more united than before the Covid-19 outbreak? On average, opinions in the fourteen countries are almost perfectly split on this question.
The U.S. is way out to one side: 77% say "more divided" and only 18% say "more united." But Canada, Australia, and the Asian and Scandinavian countries swing the other say, with large majorities saying "more united."
In general, those who don't support the party in power or think their government has done a bad job handling the pandemic--these groups heavily overlap--are more likely to say that their country is more divided.
In America, Democrats (81%) are somewhat more likely than Republicans (74%) to say their country is more divided. In South Korea, of those saying Moon-Jae-in's government has done a poor job, 74% say their country is more divided. Of those saying he has done a good job, only 29% say their country is more divided.
In Europe, supporters of all the major right-wing populist parties are more likely to say their country is more divided--probably because these parties are not in power.
Not surprisingly, views about the economy tend to be more polarized in countries in which more people think the government has not done a good job and think the country is more divided since the outbreak.
The U.S. is again way out to one side: Among Americans who think the current economic situation is bad, 34% say their government has done a good job.
Among those who think the current economic situation is good, 78% say their government has done a good job.
Would the damage wrought by the pandemic in your country have been milder if your country had cooperated more with other countries? In all countries younger adults are more likely to say yes, and older adults are more likely to say no.
If you look country by country, however, what mostly determines people's responses is whether they support the party in power.
Any question that asks whether the current government could have done anything better will naturally elicit more positive responses from those who don't like the current government.
In the U.S. and U.K., where the right is in power, voters on the left are much more likely to say that their leaders should have cooperated more with other countries. But in Sweden, South Korea, and Spain, where the left is in power, the answers split the other way.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
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.