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28 July 2020

Coronavirus fallout: blame, trust and the future of the UK

Where the public assign blame and credit, and how their trust and hopes for the future have changed

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Coronavirus fallout: blame, trust and the future of the UK

View the full report for charts and detailed findings

A new UK study by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI finds that more people think the Covid-19 crisis has been handled badly than well in the UK, with political leaders receiving most of the blame.

Views of the response have also affected political and scientific trust, and while a majority think the UK is in decline, a bigger majority are optimistic that the pandemic can be a fresh start for the country.

The study is based on 2,237 interviews with UK residents aged 16-75, and was carried out online between 17 and 20 July 2020.

The handling of the crisis

  • By 42% to 36%, the UK public are more likely to think the pandemic has been handled badly than well.

  • There is a big partisan divide in opinion, with 2019 Labour voters (60%) three times more likely than 2019 Conservative voters (21%) to say it has been mismanaged.

Who gets the blame? 

The following groups are seen as among the three or four most responsible according to those who think the crisis has been handled badly: 

  1. The UK government as a whole (70%)
  2. The Prime Minister (65%)
  3. Members of the UK public who are not following guidance (55%)
  4. The Conservative party (41%)
  5. Scientific advisors to the government (15%)

Those who think the crisis has been handled badly are divided along party lines when it comes to who is most culpable:

  • Labour voters are much more likely than Conservative voters to blame the Prime Minister (78% vs 35%), the UK government as a whole (73% vs 58%) and the Conservative party (57% vs 16%).

  • By contrast, Conservative voters are much more likely to blame the scientific advisors to the government (32% vs 12%), global health organisations like the WHO (29% vs 8%) and Public Health England (23% vs 5%).

Who gets the credit?

The following groups are seen as among the three or four most responsible according to those who think the crisis has been handled well:

  1. The NHS (72%)
  2. Members of the UK public who are following guidance (51%)
  3. Scientific advisors to the UK government (46%)
  4. The UK government as a whole (39%)
  5. Public Health England (33%)

Conservative voters who think the crisis has been handled well give more of the credit to the health service (74%), scientific advisers (53%) and rule-following members of the public (53%) than they do the government (43%), the Prime Minister (36%) or their party (18%).

How the crisis has affected political, economic and scientific trust

  • 52% of the public do not trust the government’s advice on when it’s safe to start returning to work, school or leisure activities, compared with 45% who do.

  • 46% say they do not trust the government more now as a result of how they’ve handled the crisis, twice as many as the 23% who say they do.

  • By contrast, half the population (49%) say they trust scientific experts more now because of their help throughout the crisis, compared with 13% who say they do not.

Despite the government’s response to Covid-19 not inspiring as much trust as scientists’ work, people appear to have grown less cynical about some aspects of politics: 

  • 54% now say that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them, down from 69% the last time this question was asked, back in April of 2019.

  • The proportion who say the UK economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful has fallen from 71% in 2019 – the last time the question was asked – to 62% today. 

The future of the UK

  • A majority of the public – 54% – now think the UK is in decline, up from 48% when this questions was last asked, in 2018.

  • But a bigger majority, of 66%, say they think the coronavirus crisis gives us the chance to change how we’ve done things and build a better UK in the future.

  • Support for this view declines from older to younger generations, at 76% among those born in the pre-war era, 71% among baby boomers, 66% among Gen Xers, and 60% among millennials.

Views of the government’s response

The public have a more favourable view of the government’s economic response than they do of its approach to education during the pandemic:

  • By 37% to 29%, the public think it has done a bad job of supporting children in their education during the crisis.
  • By contrast, 42% say the government has done a good job of protecting the UK economy through its response to coronavirus, compared with 29% who say it hasn’t.

Meanwhile, across a range of measures, views of the official response are virtually unchanged from the third week of May.

Views of other countries following their responses 

  • The UK public are more likely to say their view of the US has worsened (67%) during the pandemic than they are to say the same of China (57%).

  • The 67% of Britons who say their view of the US has worsened is also higher than the average of 58% who say the same across nine EU countries, as found in a previous survey from June. That poll additionally found 52% across those countries said their views of China had deteriorated.

  • Views of the EU following this crisis are more stable, with 21% saying they have worsened and 10% saying they have improved.

Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

“More people think the coronavirus crisis has been handled badly than well in the UK – but there is not universal condemnation, with nearly four in 10 thinking it’s been handled at least fairly well. There are much clearer messages on who gets the blame and credit, however: the PM and the government are the focus of blame, while the NHS is most likely to get the credit. People see the UK public as a key reason it’s gone well – and a key reason it’s gone badly, showing how varied an image we have of how different people have followed the guidelines, or not. 

“There are more worrying signs for how the crisis has changed our view of the UK’s future, with over half of the public now thinking the UK is in decline, a significant increase since 2018.

“But even with this concern about our trajectory, many also see the crisis as an opportunity: two-thirds of us think it provides a chance to build a better Britain. This is a crucial element of public opinion for the government to foster, in this period before the longer-term economic impacts start to be felt – encouraging a sense of confidence could be vital to how we do actually come back.

“In contrast, our views of some other countries have tanked, particularly the US. Two in three people say they have a worse view of the US since the crisis began, which is a much more negative shift than seen in our view of China, and much more negative than our perceptions of the EU.”

Kelly Beaver, Managing Director of Public Affairs at Ipsos MORI, said:

“It’s very much back to politics as usual when it comes to how Britons feel Covid-19 has been handled, with those who voted Labour in 2019 far likelier to say that the government or the Conservative party are at fault than those who voted Conservative in 2019. The ‘all in this together’ sentiment from the start of the crisis in March is well and truly over. What both sides of the partisan divide can agree on, though, is that the NHS has done best at handling Covid-19.

“We also see that despite some concerns in the media about support for government measures falling, less than a third of people oppose the UK Government’s current approach to controlling coronavirus.”

Technical details
Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 2,237 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom using its online i:omnibus between 17 and 20 July 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All surveys are subject to a range of potential sources of error.


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