eupinions echo 16 Sep, 2020

Germans are More Afraid of Trump Than the COVID-19 Pandemic

Economic fears trump virus worries but nothing trumps Trump

eupinions echo Germans are More Afraid of Trump Than the COVID-19 Pandemic

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.

Amidst a global pandemic on a scale probably not witnessed since the deadly Spanish flu of 1918, it would be natural to assume that the COVID-19 virus and its various consequences dominated peoples' fears and worries. At least for Germans, however, this does not appear to be the case. Instead, a much more human spectre turns out to occupy the German mindset and causes worries; the current president of the United States of America. This is the result of this year’s "Die Ängste der Deutschen" (The fears of the Germans), a study published annually ever since 1992 by R+V.

The study asks respondents to rank 22 risks and threats from the one they are most afraid of, to the one they are least afraid of. The biggest fear of the German people, it turns out, is "a more dangerous world caused by the policies of US President Trump" with 53% of respondents stating that they are very afraid of this prospect. Meanwhile, the fear of a serious illness or infection with the corona virus only ranked 17th on Germans' greatest fears with only about a third (32%) of respondents being very afraid of this.

While this might come as a surprising result in 2020 (interviews were conducted in June and July when Germans were already well aware of the impact of COVID), reality actually turns out to be a bit more nuanced. If one looks at the other fears that worry Germans the most this year, the list is predominantly filled with economic worries. The second most prominent fear among respondents was the prospect of rising costs of living (51%), followed by a higher tax burden caused by a European debt crisis (49%) and a general decline of the economy (48%). In addition, 40% of Germans also fear rising numbers of unemployment, making this the fear that has seen the biggest increase (+12%) since last year. Our very own eupinions data suggests that rising costs of living appear to be a constant and dominant worry across Europe more generally. In our 2019 study “Great Expectations”, we have shown that, at 51%, rising costs of living was the number one personal worry, both for Europeans as a whole and for people in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain and Germany individually.

Nevertheless, it is of course fair to assume that many of the fears related to economic worries tend to be corroborated by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the accompanying lockdowns around the world. Data from other countries, such as Italy, confirms this, showing the immense economic fears among the people following the initial crisis in March and April. The fear of a declining economy in particular seems to have been boosted through the virus, as in last year's study only 35% of Germans ranked such an outlook as a serious fear, propelling the statement from place 14 to place 4 on this year's ranking. In addition, 42% of Germans (rank 9 in the list) also stated they were highly afraid of pandemics becoming more common in the future as a result of globalization.

Other common fears, this year, were overshadowed by those about Trump and the economy. For instance, Germans’ fear of climate change related consequences, such as an increase in natural disasters, only ranks 5th (44%) this year, while their worries about climate change in general only came 11th at 40% (notably down from 48% in 2018 and 41% in 2019). Likewise, Germans are less fearful of their government being overburdened by too many refugees coming into the country. Only 43% state this as their major fear, a full 13% less than in last year’s survey. It is possible, however, that recent developments in Moria will again shift the focus towards matters of migration.

The topic of anxiety has been a recurring theme in several of our eupinions studies such as ‘Fear Not Values: Public Opinion and the Populist Vote in Europe’ and ‘Globalization and the EU: Threat or Opportunity?’. We have shown how feelings of anxiety due to large-scale societal change can be a driver of both polarization and politicization. In ‘Power of the Past’, we demonstrated how they can also make people more susceptible to the political messages propagated by populists and extremist political movements. Political entrepreneurs on the far left and right of the spectrum skilfully exploit people’s anxieties to win them over for their divisive rhetoric. 

It is all the more important, accordingly, that the exceptionally anxious times of this pandemic do not turn into an even bigger political crisis. Managing people’s expectations and a good crisis-management will be key to alleviate their anxieties.


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About the surveys: R+V employed 505 interviewers to conduct personal interviews with 2,396 Germans above the age of 14 during the 8th of June till the 21st of July.