Over the course of the last month, there was been a notable shift from optimism to pessimism in the UK as pertains to the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic. Whereas in early June a strong plurality (47%) considered that the worst of the pandemic was behind the UK, in July it is now a strong plurality (47%) who think that the worst is yet to come. This latest result essentially constitutes a reversal of our results in early June.
In the period between both polls, the UK has undergone a relatively rapid re-opening from lockdown: retail shops, restaurants, pubs, cinemas and hotels began to trade again. The growth of the opinion that the ‘worst is yet to come’ may be tied directly to concerns that the UK is re-opening too quickly – polling conducted on 1 July indicated that 55% of the public think lockdown is being eased too fast. Concern that the situation could get worse may be exasperated by speculation that other towns will follow in Leicester’s footsteps and impose a local lockdown.
Interestingly, there is a clear partisan dimension to the levels of optimism and pessimism. In early June, a strong majority (56%) of 2019 Conservative voters believed the worst was behind the UK, in contrast to just 39% of 2019 Labour voters. Although confidence has since dropped across both sets of supporters, a plurality of Conservatives (45%) still believe the worst is behind us, whereas only 29% of 2019 Labour voters share this view.
On the other hand, polling indicates consistent levels of pessimism about the UK Government’s ability to stave off a second wave of the pandemic. On 3 June, a plurality (47%) said they did not believe the Government was prepared to stave off a potential second wave of coronavirus, a proportion that has now slightly risen to 50%. Just a third of respondents now believe that the Government is prepared, a slight drop from 36% in early June.
The public appears increasingly sceptical that the UK economy can recover quickly from the coronavirus crisis now the lockdown measures have ended. In the latest poll, fewer than a third (31%) are now optimistic that the UK Economy can recover quickly from this crisis, down from 36% in May.
Tracking public opinion around key aspects of the coronavirus crisis in the UK has revealed a growing sense of pessimism. Significantly, although cases and deaths continue to fall, the UK public increasingly holds the belief that the worst of the crisis is yet to come. Moreover, as lockdown measures are relaxed, the public think that the UK Government will be unable to prevent a further outbreak and a second wave of cases.