A year of the coronavirus pandemic has left many Europeans markedly more fed up, more pessimistic, more critical of the way their government is handling the crisis – and worryingly prone to believe conspiracy theories, according to a major study.
The survey of nearly 8,000 people across France, Germany, Italy and Britain by the French Cevipof political research centre (pdf) showed widespread levels of belief in coronavirus and vaccine-related conspiracy theories across all four countries surveyed – with mistrust highest in France.
More than 36% of French respondents, 32% in Italy and Germany and 31% in Britain agreed that health ministries were working with pharma companies to cover up vaccine risks, while 42% in France, 41% in the UK, 40% in Italy and 39% in Germany felt governments were exploiting the crisis to “control and monitor” citizens.
The survey also confirmed a familiar contrast in levels of social and political confidence between southern and northern Europe.
The four countries’ experiences of the pandemic are not the same: Italy, hit hard last spring, is starting cautiously to reopen; Germany and the UK, both with second waves deadlier than the first, cannot yet do so; France is hoping to avoid a third lockdown.
But asked what word best described their state of mind, 41% of French respondents chose “weary”, against 28% last February. In Italy, included for the first time, the figure was 40%. In Britain it rose to 31% from 19%, and in Germany to 15% from 7%.
“People everywhere are very, very preoccupied by this crisis,” said Bruno Cautrès, a Cevipof analyst. “But the morose, anxious outlook of the French emerges very clearly from these figures. There is a thick French filter of mistrust.”
Asked if they agreed with their government’s handling of the crisis, 56% of Germans answered “wholly” or “partly”, compared with 74% last April. In the UK, approval fell from from 69% to 48%, and in France from 39% to 37%. In Italy it was 52%.
“These figures represent a mixture of temporary and structural factors,” said Gilles Ivaldi, a Cevipof researcher. “Regardless of the government’s objective performance in handling the pandemic, trust in politics generally is lower in Italy but, most clearly, in France, and that is reflected in people’s judgments.”