Americans rank dead last – by a long way – among citizens of more than a dozen countries who were asked whether their nation is more united now than it was before the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey released Thursday.
And they come in a statistical joint last place with the British on whether their country has handled the pandemic well, the poll finds.
In the United States, fewer than two in 10 people (18%) said the country is more united now.
That’s a full 21 percentage points below the next lowest-ranking countries, Germany and France, where just under four in 10 (39%) respondents expressed that opinion. Denmark had the highest percentage saying their country was more united now, with more than seven in 10 (72%) giving that answer.
As with so many questions these hyper-partisan days, there’s a gigantic gap between Republican and Democratic views of whether the Trump administration has handled the pandemic well.
Three quarters (76%) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said the government has done a good job. Only one quarter (25%) of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents agree.
The findings come from a Pew Research Center survey of 14 advanced economies in North America, Europe and Asia. The Washington, DC-based think tank interviewed 14,276 adults by telephone from June 10 to August 3.
Role of politics
A clear majority of people across the 14 countries said their own nation had handled Covid-19 well: 73% agreed, while 27% disagreed.
But in the United Kingdom and the United States, the figures were much lower: 46% and 47% respectively. They’re the only two countries where a minority of people said the government had done well. In every other country polled, most people said their government had done well, from Japan with 55% up to Denmark with 95%.
The United States is not the only country where support for the government’s coronavirus response broke along partisan lines – the Pew survey detected the same pattern in the UK and in Spain.
Those results show it’s not a matter of whether you’re on the left or the right of the political spectrum that predicts whether you think your government has done well. The US and UK have right-leaning governments, while Spain has a left-leaning one. In each country, people with the same political bent as the government tend to say it’s done well in the crisis.
John Curtice, one of Britain’s leading polling experts, said that phenomenon is well understood by social scientists.
“Generally speaking, it doesn’t matter what you’re asking: the government in power is more likely to be seen well by people who voted for it than people who didn’t,” said Curtice, a professor at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
But he pointed out that the findings do make it possible to compare how well each government is doing among its own supporters.
In Spain and the United States, about three-quarters of government supporters say their country has handled the coronavirus well – but in the UK, the figure is just over half.
Pew Research Center research associate Kat Devlin pointed out that not all countries polled had a political divide over views of the government response, “especially in countries with high levels of overall satisfaction with how their nation has dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak.”
“In Denmark, currently led by the center-left Social Democrats, and in Australia, whose leader Scott Morrison belongs to the center-right Liberal Party of Australia, at least nine-in-ten adults on both the political left and political right believe their country has done well against the coronavirus,” Devlin, one of the report authors, told CNN by email.
Economic confidence is also linked to the belief the government is doing well. In all 14 countries in the survey, people who said the current economic situation is good were more likely to say the government was doing a good job on coronavirus.
Again, the US is the most extreme example of the trend: There’s a 44-point gap between those who say the current economic situation is bad but the government is handling the crisis well (34%) and those who say the economic situation is good and the government is handling the crisis well (78%).
One possibly surprising area where the United States falls smack in the middle of the pack is on the question of whether more international cooperation would have reduced the number of coronavirus cases in their country. Across the whole 14-country survey, 59% of people said it would, while 36% said it would not. In the United States, 58% said more cooperation between countries would have helped and 37% said it would not.
Among other findings in the survey, women in every country are more likely than men to say their lives have changed because of the crisis, with a gap as high as 15 points in the United States, France and Sweden.
And perhaps most surprising of all, in Sweden – which famously put almost no restrictions in place to stop the spread of the virus – more than seven out of 10 people (71%) said their lives had changed a great deal as a result of the outbreak. That’s the second highest percentage of any country in the survey, behind South Korea (81%), which put sweeping restrictions in place.
The Pew Research Center conducted nationally representative telephone surveys of adults in the United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
The study was conducted only in countries where nationally representative telephone surveys are feasible.
“Due to the coronavirus outbreak, face-to-face interviewing is not currently possible in many parts of the world that we have previously included in our research,” report co-author Devlin said. “We have surveyed in 12 of these nations virtually every year since 2016, and they represent some of the world’s largest economies and traditional allies of the US.”