The limitations of polling data in understanding public support for COVID-19 lockdown policies

Colin M.G. Foad, Lorraine Whitmarsh, Paul H.P. Hanel, Geoffrey Haddock

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8 Citations (SciVal)


Opinion polls regarding policies designed to tackle COVID-19 have shown public support has remained high throughout the first year of the pandemic in most places around the world. However, there is a risk that headline support over-simplifies people's views. We carried out a two-wave survey with six-month interval on a public sample (N = 212) in the UK, examining the factors that underpin lockdown policy support. We find that the majority of people support most public health measures introduced, but that they also see significant side effects of these policies, and that they consider many of these side effects as unacceptable in a cost-benefit analysis. We also find that people judged the threat of COVID-19 via the magnitude of the policy response, and that they do not use their perception of the personal threat to themselves or close others to guide their support for policy. Polling data only offer one simple perspective and do not illustrate the ambivalence many people feel around lockdown policies. There is also a meaningful risk of public opinion and government policy forming a symbiotic relationship, which impacts upon how effectively such policies are implemented both now, and in relation to future threats.

Original languageEnglish
Article number210678
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number7
Early online date7 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2021


  • attitude formation
  • COVID-19
  • policy
  • polling data
  • public support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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