Wednesday, July 6

Posthaste: Canadians say the country is more divided than before the pandemic — and it’s getting worse

Good Morning!

We have been in this pandemic more than a year now and what do we have to show for it? A society that is more divided than ever.

That’s according to a new study by the Pew Research Centre that polled almost 20,000 people in 17 advanced economies. Six in 10 of those surveyed reported that national divisions had worsened since COVID-19 began.

In almost all of the countries, these feelings of division increased significantly between 2020 and 2021, in some cases by as much as 30 percentage points.

Canada is one such case. In 2020, 66% thought the country was more united than before the pandemic; by 2021, 61% thought it was more divided.

The United States is even more extreme, with 77% on the divided side in 2020 rising to 88% by 2021.

Not surprisingly, one source of these divisions is over social restrictions imposed during the pandemic, such as stay-at-home orders and wearing masks.

What may be surprising is the largest group in Canada and the United States think there should have been more restrictions. In Canada 53% thought there should have been more, while just 18% thought there should have been fewer restrictions. In the US, 56 % wanted more, and 26% wanted fewer.

One standout internationally was Japan, where 62% thought there should have been more restrictions, and just 8% thought fewer.

In New Zealand, hailed as a model for its handling of the virus, a whopping 80% said the level of restrictions was just right.

“Ideologically, in most nations, those who identify on the right of the political spectrum are more likely than those on the left to support fewer restrictions to contain the virus,” said the study.

People’s rating of how their country has handled the crisis has also declined since the summer of 2020. The percentage of Canadians who said their country did a good job had slipped from 88% to 65% by the spring of 2021, a 23% percentage point decline.

The UK, whose vaccine campaign was seen as one of the world’s quickest and most successful, was the only country where this rating improved, rising from 46% approval in 2020 to 64% in 2021.

And what about people’s lives? How much of an impact has the pandemic had on that?

Globally, a median of 65% say their lives have changed a great deal or a fair amount, but the results vary significantly from country to country.

In Canada 70% say their lives have changed, and in the US it’s 73%. The highest is South Korea at 87%. While in New Zealand, 67% say their lives have not changed, or at least not much. In Australia, 62% report little change.

Young people have borne the brunt of pandemic change, with disruptions to their schooling or losing jobs in COVID lockdowns. In the Netherlands, young people were 28 percentage points more likely than the older generations to report a change. In Canada, youth were 11 percentage points more likely.