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Increasingly worried, supportive of restrictions: What opinion poll findings tell us about Ireland's perception of the pandemic

The latest public opinion survey shows that more people are worried about Covid-19.

HOW DO THE Irish public feel about the government’s handling of this latest stage of the Covid-19 pandemic? 

According to a survey conducted and published yesterday, people’s concern about Covid-19 is increasing.

The Irish government has published surveys by Amárach Research each week since May, asking over 1,500 adults how they feel about a range of Covid-related restrictions. 

According to the poll published yesterday, 63% thought there should be more restrictions than there had been up to that point. 

At the beginning of September, 39% of people thought we needed additional restrictions. 

Like all of the Ámarach surveys carried out for the government, yesterday’s one was conducted and published on the same day.

Yesterday’s was conducted in the wake of Sunday night’s news reports indicating that NPHET had recommended the country go to Level 5 of the current Living with Covid plan. 

Last night, the Taoiseach announced that the government would reject that advice and pursue a middle-ground, with the entire country to join Dublin and Donegal at Level 3 from midnight tonight. 

This increase in Covid-19 restrictions nationwide has prompted representatives of a dozen trade unions and almost 500 businesses to express concern to the Government about jobs within the food, drink and hospitality sectors; the Restaurants Association of Ireland has said that 180,000 jobs could be at risk because of the latest measures.

Deirdre Robertson, researcher at the behavioural economics team in the ESRI explained to that the call for further restrictions “does go in tandem” with other findings in the Amárach Research survey, which found that people are increasingly worried about the virus, and worried about the people in their lives.

“What’s most interesting is what people are most worried about – the health of friends and families – stayed consistently high [over the past few months],” she said.

Graph restrictions Amárach research Amárach research

The Amárach survey indicates that concern about Covid is increasing among the public, with ‘the health of friends and family’, and ‘health system being overloaded’ representing two of the top three things people are most concerned about – the third being the economy.

In the poll published yesterday, the number of people who thought the response so far had been ‘appropriate’ had fallen from 58% at the beginning of September to 44%. A further 44% thought that the government’s response had been ‘insufficient’.

Nearly seven months in, compliance is still high

Another point of interest is the question about how people think other people are adhering to the guidelines. 

Though self-reported in the survey, Robertson says that the high rate of compliance in wearing face masks and social distancing is likely a result of a sense of social cohesion.

Robertson said that studies have shown that when people know the rationale behind something and feel there is a collective sense of “we’re all in this together”, there is “pretty strong compliance” longterm.

“People wouldn’t get fatigued as long as they felt it was a collective action,” Robertson said, adding that the idea of protecting other people is a strong motivator for compliance with pandemic-related restrictions.

It is mentioned a lot that people can’t maintain compliance with restrictions over a sustained period, but she says that there isn’t “a huge amount of evidence” for that assertion.

Key: People believe others are following the rules

Not only have respondents reported high compliance with social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitiser usage and coughing etiquette – most respondents said that they believe other people are following the guidelines, too.

In a question about behaviour, 40% responded to say that ‘most people are following the guidelines’, while 39% said that ‘it’s about 50/50 in terms of people following the guidelines’. Just 13% said ‘most people are not following the guidelines’.

If people thought that nobody was following the guidelines, they might not either, Robertson said.

Behaviour is driven by norms and what other people do. If we get to a stage where people don’t think other people are following the guidelines, that could certainly impact on behaviour.

“Of course, there are extreme cases of people not following guidelines,” she says; it’s important not to overstate these cases, or to forget about the “silent majority” of people who are adhering to the rules. 

The Amárach survey also indicated that, for the first time since before June, the number of people who think that Ireland is trying to return to normal ‘a bit too quickly’ (35%) is marginally greater than those who think it’s ‘at about the right pace’ (34%).

Robertson said:

Before the [first] roadmap was published, we asked people when things would open up again, and actually the answers we got back were [aware of the] longer-term impacts – people didn’t expect things to open up as quickly as they did.

“Most Irish people are quite well informed about this. People’s understanding of risk is nearly on par with medical health experts in terms of being next to someone, gatherings, the amount of time spent with someone, social distancing.”

The Amárach surveys are conducted and reported on the same day among a sample size of over 1,500 adults. The latest Amárach survey was based on responses from 1,770 adults. 

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