eupinions echo 1 Sep, 2020

COVID-19 Rallied the French Around Their Government, Now They Are Losing Their Faith

Trust in the French government keeps eroding as more and more French people fear a second wave of infection.

eupinions echo COVID-19 Rallied the French Around Their Government, Now They Are Losing Their Faith

Every week, surveys from all across the EU tell us what Europeans are thinking, feeling and talking about. In our segment, eupinions echo, we collect these voices and play them back to you. Each week, we highlight one survey of particular interest in a short blogpost and share daily new survey results via our website and our twitter channel.

During the past months, we have written a fair bit about the varying perceptions of COVID-19 and its consequences across the continent. One thing became apparent very quickly: there is a large variety of sentiments and reactions towards the pandemic across different EU member states. In Italy, for example, worries shifted over time from immediate health-related consequences of the virus to the long-term economic impact of the pandemic, whereas in Sweden less and less people continued to be worried about the virus at all.

In France, we observed that people generally take the virus very seriously. The French were the least likely to be turned off by stricter corona regulations when travelling to other countries, manifested an absolute majority of citizens in favour of mandatory mask-wearing in outdoor public spaces and 63% of the population even spoke out in favour of temporary border closures within the EU to avoid a second wave of infections.

Having said that, a new survey conducted by ifop in mid-August of this year, sheds a new light on how French citizens view the ongoing crisis and, in particular, on how their sentiments have changed over time. Respondents were first asked to what degree they worried about various aspects of the crisis. In total, 87% of respondents were either somewhat or very worried about the economic consequences of the corona pandemic, while 73% were worried about possible health effects to themselves or their families.

Our latest eupinions trends confirm that increasing financial worries have become an issue for Europeans more generally. Between December 2019 and March 2020, the proportion of respondents who stated that their financial situation had improved in the last two years increased or remained constant in most of the EU member states we surveyed. The ongoing pandemic appears to have broken this positive trend, for in June 2020, the proportion of respondents who stated that their financial situation had recently improved dropped significantly in most of the countries we surveyed, with the steepest decline in Poland and Spain.

Interestingly, however, when French respondents are asked to rank their worries, the respective urgency they assign to financial and health-related worries shifts. An absolute majority of 53% stated that they were most worried about possible detrimental health effects of the virus for themselves or their loved ones, while only 29% of respondents put down the economic consequences of the pandemic as their prime concern. An even smaller proportion of just 18% of French people saw restrictive regulations such as mandatory mask-wearing and the risk of losing personal freedoms as their primary worry. Worries about the virus, which originally peaked in mid-March, had been in decline for most of March, April and June but picked up again towards the end of June and have been rising steadily ever since.

This uptick in fear of the virus coincided with a decline in the trust that French citizens have been placing in their government’s crisis management, ifop’s recent survey suggests. While a majority of 52% of respondents continues to believe that the government is doing an adequate job in protecting the economy and helping businesses during the crisis, an even larger majority of 59% respondents do not have any confidence in the government's overall capabilities in fighting the pandemic. Both trust levels have seen a significant decline since the beginning of the crisis when 57% of French citizens were still confident in their government's economic aid and 55% showed trust in the government's overall ability to effectively fight the pandemic.

Interestingly, the corona crisis had initially led to somewhat of a "rally around the flag" effect in many countries, including France, with approval ratings of French president Emanuel Macron seeing a seven-point increase during the month of March according to Politico's Poll of Polls average. Since then, Marcon's approval rating has been hovering around the 41% mark (in comparison to 33% before the pandemic). However, should overall trust in the French government's capabilities continue to erode further it is doubtful whether Macron can hold on to this polling bump for much longer.

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About the surveys: The Survey was conducted by ifop with interviews of 1.003 French respondents over the age of 18 on the 13th and 14th of August 2020.