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06/05/2020
Politics, Business, Society, Featured, Asia

Most countries’ COVID-19 responses rated poorly by own citizens in first-of-its-kind global survey

According to the findings from a first-of-its-kind global survey, citizens across 23 countries are largely unsatisfied with their own governments’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Western governments faring worse than their Eastern counterparts.

Jointly conducted by Singapore’s leading social research agency Blackbox Research and international online panel specialist Toluna, the Toluna-Blackbox Index of Global Crisis Perceptions measured the sentiments of citizens from 23 countries towards their national COVID-19 crisis management efforts. This is assessed across four key performance indicators: national political leadership, corporate leadership, community, and media. 

The winners & losers: Citizens in Western countries less satisfied

With an index score of 85, China tops the index with the most citizens rating its performance favourably across all four indicators. Vietnam came in second (77), followed by a tie between the United Arab Emirates and India (59). However, New Zealand (56) is the only Western country with an index score higher than the global average of 45 – indicating that citizens in Western countries are generally less satisfied with their countries’ performances. 

The United States (U.S.), Australia, as well as all four western European countries – Italy, Germany, United Kingdom (UK), and France – were all rated below the global average, with France scoring lowest in the region and the second lowest globally at 26.  

On the other end of the index, Japan ranks last with an index score of 16, due to its perceived poor political performance and business leadership, as well as lacklustre community performance. Right behind France, countries like Hong Kong (27) and Korea (31) also fared poorly with its citizens.

David Black, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Blackbox Research, said that the index scores reflect the realities that countries are facing amid the crisis. He added, “Overall, most countries are not performing up to their citizens’ expectations. The Chinese are exceptionally satisfied, which could be attributed to how they are already in their post-COVID-19 recovery phase amid the global outbreak, which gave a sense that China has handled the crisis well.

“We are also seeing major cracks in self-belief across the Western world. The outlier among them being New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s leadership in effectively curtailing the COVID-19 spread has led to a favourable rating on the country’s crisis performance.”

Confidence in national leadership wavering

With the number of infections over 3.5 million worldwide, world leaders have seen their political leadership scrutinised by its citizens amid mounting pressures to stem the pandemic. Only 7 out of the 23 countries’ political leaders were rated highly for their crisis response by at least 50 per cent of its citizens. Japan emerged last on the list, with only 5 per cent of its citizens rating their leaders’ responses favourably.

Aside from New Zealand, Western countries including the U.S., Australia, Italy, Germany, UK, and France had less than 50 per cent of its citizens report favourable ratings, with France faring lowest in the region and third-lowest globally at 14 per cent. In terms of government preparedness, 84 per cent of French citizens believed their leaders responded too late, followed by the Japanese (82 per cent), and Americans (74 per cent).

Mr Black notes that governments such as Japan that are perceived slow to respond in the crisis has seen public confidence in political leadership taking a hit. He said, “Japan’s low ratings is in line with ongoing criticism towards the Abe government’s handling of the pandemic, such as the perceived delay in declaring a state of emergency, and arguably did not pass the COVID-19 leadership stress test.”

Mr Black also said that the study confirms that the crisis has dented western psyches insofar of expectations about national preparedness in many areas. He said, “For many of these countries, this pandemic is unprecedented. Governments are still coming to terms with a crisis they did not expect, and public confidence suffered as a result.

“Meanwhile, a significant part of Asia has had their leadership shaped by past epidemics, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which means citizens believe their governments will have in place the necessary measures when it comes to responding to similarly serious respiratory pathogens.”

Businesses not leading the way

With a deepening economic slump across the world amid nationwide lockdowns, business leaders are also put to the test in terms of how they respond to the crisis. China (80 per cent) and Vietnam (64 per cent) are the only two countries with more than 50 per cent of their citizens rating highly when it comes to their business leaders’ responses to the crisis. Meanwhile, France (10 per cent), Hong Kong (7 per cent), and Japan (6 per cent) fell behind as the most poorly rated. 

This could be attributed to how people felt that businesses can be doing more, with 4 in 5 (79 per cent) of those surveyed said they expected major businesses to have done more during the crisis. Breaking down this number, citizens in Asian countries reflect a more collective view and think companies need to chip in and contribute more in tough times. 84 per cent of citizens in Asian countries surveyed carry this sentiment, while only 68 per cent of those in Western countries believe this.

Overall, there is a strong public sentiment that businesses should be compelled to take an active role in offsetting the impact of any future crises. 82 per cent said that listed companies should be compelled to make a minimum contribution in a time of crisis, and 85 per cent indicated that they will remember and support the companies and brands that have helped during the crisis.

Disparity in confidence between economic powerhouses

With all eyes on the world’s economic powerhouses, China demonstrated greater confidence in emerging from the COVID-19 crisis stronger that the U.S. As China eases the lockdown of its cities, an overwhelming 85 per cent of its citizens believed the country will emerge stronger from the crisis.

On the other hand, only 41 per cent of Americans felt the same way about their own country. In terms of who will be hit the hardest, 63 per cent of Chinese believed that the U.S. would emerge from the pandemic weaker, while only 37 per cent of Americans believed China would emerge weaker. 

Moving forward, the three things people most want to see following the crisis are: a full economic recovery in 6 months (58 per cent), healthcare reforms (52 per cent), and better use of technology for contact tracing (49 per cent).

Commenting on the significance of the latest survey results, Mr Black said, “The survey findings has shown that the pandemic has dramatically shifted our worldview, and this will unequivocally change the way we approach governance, business, and healthcare moving forward. 

“COVID-19 is not the first and will not be the last global pandemic. In order to rebuild public trust and confidence, leaders need to consider the lasting implications and impacts of the crisis in order to emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient.” 

About the Survey 

Blackbox Research and Toluna carried out an online nationally representative survey of n=12,592 across 23 countries, aged between 18 to 80. Quotas were applied for gender, age and socio-economic criteria, including education and household type, to ensure representative coverage. The statistical margin of error for the study is 3-6 per cent. The survey was conducted between 3 April to 19 April. The field work was staggered through April starting first in Asia and finishing in Iran.