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COVID-19: Views and behaviours of Canadians during the pandemic

Elections Canada's Research Division, June 2020

Introduction

In early 2020, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) reached Canada, with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring it a pandemic on March 11, 2020.1 Since then, significant changes have occurred across Canada, as unprecedented governmental orders have been put in place to curb the spread of the virus.2

This document illustrates the views and behaviours of Canadians during this pandemic. Their concerns, expectations and behaviours, trust levels in governments and institutions, as well as their views on potential elections, are explored. This research note is informed by academic journal articles and public opinion studies in Canada and the United States, with publication dates ranging from April 8 to June 15, 2020, and may be useful in the preparation for the delivery of the next general election.

Recent research suggests that, overall, Canadians are taking the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously and are concerned for their well-being and that of their friends and family. Further, Canadians seem to have high expectations when it comes to health and safety measures in public places such as retail stores. Despite the recent decline in COVID-19 cases, research points to this pandemic having lasting impacts on the behaviours of Canadians.

Canadians' concerns, expectations and behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic

Concerns

With the pandemic still in effect, nearly three in five Canadians (59%) are concerned about becoming sick with COVID-19. That said, Canadians seem more concerned for the well-being of others, with four in five (79%) being concerned about their friends or family becoming sick with COVID-19. The height of this concern occurred in early April, when nine in ten (91%) Canadians were concerned about friends or family becoming sick3; this seems to align approximately with the peak timeframe of the virus.4

Expectations

As of early May 2020, a significant proportion of Canadians (68%) believed that it would take at least six months before society would fully return to "normal." This marks a stark contrast compared with when Canadians were asked this in March and (39%) and April (43%).5 Further, the vast majority of Canadians (85%) are expecting a second wave of COVID-19 to strike in the fall of 20206 and are concerned about it (86%).7 If a second wave were to arise, it can be assumed that concerns for personal well-being and that of friends and family will increase again.

Behaviours

A high proportion of Canadians expect a second wave of COVID-19 to hit the country in the fall,8 and most (95%) agree that the spread of the virus can be effectively slowed down by physical distancing.9 Only a very small proportion (3%) of Canadians seem to be disregarding public health recommendations entirely by continuing to carry on "as normal" by going to work and interacting with others as they did prior to the pandemic. As of early April, the vast majority (80%) of Canadians were either reducing their social contact with a limited group of people (20%) or only leaving home to do groceries but were not having social contact otherwise (60%);10 thus, physical distancing appears to be common practice among Canadians.

As of the end of May, three in five Canadians now identify health and safety regulations to be as important as customer service, and half (51%) of Canadians believe that it should be mandatory to wear a mask when in public.11 Recognizing that public health guidelines are easing and stores are re-opening, as of early June, nearly two thirds (64%) of Canadians stated that they would stop shopping at a location if it did not follow proper health and safety regulations. Further, four in five Canadians indicate that once shopping restrictions are lifted, they would not return to shop right away.12 These views and behaviours seem to indicate that Canadians are taking health and safety measures seriously and expect measures to be put in place when venturing into public places.

Trust levels in institutions and governments

Canadians' trust levels in governments, doctors, scientists, not-for-profits or charities, and small and medium business have all increased from January to May 2020. Conversely, trust levels in educators and CEOs of big businesses have declined.13

Overall, Canadians' satisfaction with the federal government increased markedly when the pandemic began in March.14,15 Yet, recent surveys indicate that, since March, Canadians' belief that the Government of Canada is on track with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically, is declining. As of early June, when asked to rate whether the Government of Canada was on track with regard to COVID-19, Canadians provided a rating of 58%, a sharp decline from the end of March when it was at 70%.16,17 Therefore, while satisfaction with the government had increased at the beginning of the pandemic, the belief that it is on the right track has been steadily declining over time.

More specifically, Canadians have remained fairly stable in their beliefs that the Government of Canada is doing well in: providing information to Canadians on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (89%), protecting the health of Canadians from COVID-19 (86%), providing financial support to Canadians (85%), and providing financial support to businesses (76%).18

Despite the gradual decline of Canadians' belief that the Government of Canada is on the right track, overall trust in certain institutions and professions have increased when compared with just before the beginning of the pandemic and satisfaction with the government remains high as well.

Views on elections

As of early May, the majority (72%) of Canadians were supportive overall of postponing elections for as long as the pandemic endures,19 with only less than one-fifth (16%) of Canadians preferring an election to take place in fall 2020.20

Support for voting by mail

While there is no current public opinion research regarding support for voting by mail in a Canadian context, understanding American research can be helpful.

Recent studies have found that Americans who are more exposed to scientific findings regarding COVID-19 and those who are more concerned about the effects of the pandemic seem more likely to support voting by mail and are more likely to trust the integrity of the ballot.21,22,23 Further, over two-thirds (70%) of Americans are in support of allowing any voter to vote by mail if they want to.24 In Canada, where a large proportion of citizens are still concerned about COVID-1925 and adamant about health and safety measures being put in place, it can likely be assumed that Canadians would support the option to vote by mail if an election were to be called during the pandemic.

Footnotes

Footnote 1 Government of Canada. (2020, June 18). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update. Government of Canada Public Health. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html.

Footnote 2 Harell, A. (2020, April 8). How Canada's pandemic response is shifting political views. Policy Options. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2020/how-canadas-pandemic-response-is-shifting-political-views/.

Footnote 3 Angus Reid Institute. (2020, May 15). Perpetual pandemic: Canadians say post-COVID-19 'return to normal' is far off. Angus Reid Institute. http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2020.05.14_COVID_TRACKING_RESTRICTIONS.pdf.

Footnote 4 John Hopkins University and Medicine. (2020, June 19). COVID-19 dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.

Footnote 5 Angus Reid Institute. (2020, May 15). Perpetual pandemic: Canadians say post-COVID-19 'return to normal' is far off. Angus Reid Forum. http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2020.05.14_COVID_TRACKING_RESTRICTIONS.pdf

Footnote 6 Ekos Politics. (2020, May 12). A future history of the covid-19 crisis: Public outlook on possible conclusions and lessons. Ekos Politics. http://www.ekospolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/full_report_may_12_2020.pdf.

Footnote 7 Leger and Association of Canadian Studies. (2020, May 27). Canadians are worried about a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall. Canadian Research Insights Council. https://leger360.com/surveys/weekly-covid-19-pandemic-tracker-may-26-2020/.

Footnote 8 Ekos Politics. (2020, May 12). A future history of the covid-19 crisis: Public outlook on possible conclusions and lessons. Ekos Politics. http://www.ekospolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/full_report_may_12_2020.pdf.

Footnote 9 Bricker, D. (2020 April 8). One quarter (26%) of Canadians admit they're not practicing physical distancing as recommended. Ipsos. https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-and-polls/One-Quarter-Of-Canadians-Admit-They-Are-Not-Practicing-Physical-Distancing-As-Recommended.

Footnote 10 Ibid.

Footnote 11 Leger and Association of Canadian Studies. (2020, May 27). Canadians are worried about a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall. Canadian Research Insights Council. https://leger360.com/surveys/weekly-covid-19-pandemic-tracker-may-26-2020/.

Footnote 12 Alexov, E. (2020, June 8). Four in five Canadians will not shop at stores deemed "unsafe". Ipsos. https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/Four-in-Five-Canadians-Will-Not-Shop-at-Stores-Deemed-Unsafe.

Footnote 13 Proof CanTrust Index. (2020, May 15).Proof CanTrust Index: 2020 results and insights. CanTrust Index. https://www.getproof.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2020-Proof-Inc.-CanTrust-Index-Results-Report_May.pdf.

Footnote 14 Harell, A. (2020, April 8). How Canada's pandemic response is shifting political views. Policy Options. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2020/how-canadas-pandemic-response-is-shifting-political-views/.

Footnote 15 Anderson, B., & Coletto, D. (2020, May 21). Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians would re-elect Liberal and the Prime Minister's image improves markedly. Abacus Data. https://abacusdata.ca/political-update-polling-canadian-politics-may2020/.

Footnote 16 Government of Canada. (2020, June 15). Coronavirus/COVID-19: Privy Council Office survey. PCO Communications and Consultations.

Footnote 17 Note: these figures were calculated by using the data for men and women to create an overall average.

Footnote 18 Government of Canada. (2020, June 15). Coronavirus/COVID-19: Privy Council Office survey. PCO Communications and Consultations.

Footnote 19 Bensadoun, E. (2020, May 13). Most Canadians back postponing elections until after COVID-19 pandemic: Ipsos poll. Global News Ipsos. https://globalnews.ca/news/6933109/coronavirus-delaying-elections-canada/.

Footnote 20 Anderson, B., & Coletto, D. (2020, May 21). Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians would re-elect Liberal and the Prime Minister's image improves markedly. Abacus Data. https://abacusdata.ca/political-update-polling-canadian-politics-may2020/.

Footnote 21 Lockhart, M., Hill, S., Merolla, J., Romero, M., & Kousser, T. (2020, May 1). Working paper: Are voters polarized along party lines about how to run elections during the COVID-19 crisis? UC San Diego. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/5714p8qk.

Footnote 22 Motta, M., & Jansa, J. (2020, May 8). Concern about COVID-19 & support for universal vote by mail. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/yatjc.

Footnote 23 Kousser, T., Hill, S., Lockhart, M., Merolla, J., & Romero, M. (2020, April 30). Working paper: How do Americans want elections to be run during the COVID-19 crisis? UC San Diego. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6mb7764n.

Footnote 24 Pew Research Center. (2020, April 28). Two-thirds of Americans expect Presidential election will be disrupted by COVID-19. Pew Research Center.

https://www.people-press.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2020/04/PP_2020.04.28_COVID-19-Elections-and-Voting_FINAL.pdf.

Footnote 25 Angus Reid Institute. (2020, May 15). Perpetual pandemic: Canadians say post-COVID-19 'return to normal' is far off. Angus Reid Institute. http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2020.05.14_COVID_TRACKING_RESTRICTIONS.pdf.