Will Covid-19 change what the public expect of government?

Lead Research Organisation: National Centre for Social Research
Department Name: Research Department


COVID19 has created a major social and economic shock that has impelled government intervention on a scale unprecedented in peace time. A key question that now arises is whether this experience has changed voters' expectations of what government can and should do - and so altered the climate of public opinion with which politicians will have to deal once the public health crisis has ended.

This study will use survey research to assess whether attitudes in Britain have changed in three areas. First, has the anxiety created by the crisis and the experience of social distancing made us more or less trusting of others and tolerant of those who behave differently from ourselves? Second, has the economic shock and risk of unemployment changed our attitudes towards government spending and the provision of welfare to those of working age? Third, has the experience of an internationally transmitted disease created an increased wish to control our borders, most notably in respect of immigration?

The first survey will be conducted in 2020, the second in 2021. Both will ask questions that were previously asked on surveys before the pandemic, thereby making it possible to see how attitudes have changed.


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Description This project is examining the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on voters' social and political attitudes. The pandemic has witnessed a substantial increase in the role of government in the economy and perhaps this has resulted in a climate of opinion that will wish to see a more active state after the pandemic. Meanwhile, previous research suggests that contagious diseases can result in increased 'othering' and a decline in social trust.
The research is being pursued by reinterviewing - in two phases (in July 2020 and May 2021) - people who responded to the 2018 or 2019 British Social Attitudes surveys (before the pandemic)
The first wave of interviewing suggests that for the most part the initial experience of the pandemic has had relatively little impact on either set of attitudes. Support for more public spending in general or on welfare spending for those of working age remained at much the same level as before the pandemic. There were no consistent signs of a change in levels of social trust or in attitudes towards immigration. However, this meant that a trend towards a more liberal outlook on welfare spending that had been in evidence before the pandemic held firm in the early months of the pandemic, and this may have helped facilitate public support for the increased governmental intervention in the labour market.
However, the second wave of interviewing, which now looks as though it will take place as the pandemic may be coming to an end, will be key to providing decisive answers to our research questions.
Exploitation Route A central question facing the UK after the pandemic is whether a return to 'normal' also means a return to pre-pandemic levels of government activity, or whether there is now an appetite for a bigger state. Understanding of which of these proves to be the case will be vital to politicians and policy makers as they make decisions about the shape of post-pandemic public policy.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://natcen.ac.uk/blog/has-covid-19-shifted-public-attitudes
Description The finding that the public attitudes towards welfare for those of working age continues to be more liberal than it was between c. 1997-2012 has been noted by another of commentators.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural

Description Has COVID changed the political landscape? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited presentation to the Deloitte Academy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020