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Guardian Essential poll: one-third say there has been an overreaction to coronavirus

The Guardian logo The Guardian 5 days ago Katharine Murphy Political editor
Scott Morrison wearing a suit and tie: Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

One-third of people in the latest Guardian Essential survey believe there has been an overreaction to the threat of the coronavirus, and only 35% of the sample trust the media to give them honest and reliable information about the pandemic.

The latest survey of 1,034 respondents suggests men, and voters aged under 34, are more likely to think there has been an overreaction than voters over 55, and women.

A majority (64%) say they feel informed about the evolving health crisis and the impact on their family, but the feedback from voters shows there is a substantial trust deficit about information presented by the media.

Government is currently faring better than media outlets on trust and reliability questions, but only 51% of the sample agrees with the statement: “The information I’ve received has been clear and consistent” while 56% of respondents say they trust the government to provide honest and objective information about the Covid-19 outbreak.

Related: Our politicians scramble for hope as Australia, one of the most gregarious nations on earth, folds in on itself | Katharine Murphy

While just over half the fortnightly sample expresses confidence in government, this means a substantial proportion of respondents lacks confidence in the information coming through official channels – which suggests containing the pandemic will be difficult if people don’t trust public health messaging.

Older voters are more likely than younger people to report feeling informed, and this cohort has higher trust in government messaging. But only 35% of the sample agrees with the statement: “I trust the media to provide honest and objective information about the Covid-19 outbreak.”

The survey was in the field last week, before the dramatic and sometimes confusing developments over the weekend, which included a spike in the number of cases being reported and the Morrison government’s decision to unveil a second economic stimulus package worth $66bn. While the prime minister was unveiling part two of the stimulus in Canberra, the states also upped the ante by insisting on further social distancing measures, including the closure of pubs and clubs – health curbs that will spark significant job losses.

Sunday’s move to step up social distancing measures was triggered in part by Australians flocking to Bondi beach they day before in defiance of the public health advice banning non-essential crowds of more than 500 people. All tiers of government are currently concerned that Australians are not heeding the public heath messaging – but the messaging has sometimes been confusing, and contradictory between Canberra and the states.

Voters in the sample who believe the threat of the coronavirus has been underestimated, rather than overblown – 28% of the sample - are more likely to report feeling less informed about emerging developments, are less likely to feel the information they’ve receive is clear and consistent, and they are less likely to trust the government as a broker of reliable information.

Related: As Australia goes off the coronavirus cliff, the question is how hard will it land? | Katharine Murphy

A majority of people say they have changed their behaviour in response to the outbreak, with 72% reporting washing hands more often, 60% saying they are avoiding social gatherings and refraining from physical contact during greetings. While a majority reports shifting their behaviour, these percentages suggest a sizeable proportion of Australians are persisting with business as usual behaviours.

Scott Morrison wearing a suit and tie: Less than half of those surveyed in the latest Guardian Essential poll rate the Morrison government’s coronavirus response as either good or very good. © Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP Less than half of those surveyed in the latest Guardian Essential poll rate the Morrison government’s coronavirus response as either good or very good.

While there has been a substantial run on supermarkets over the past couple of weeks, with consumers panicking about running out of essential items, prompting Scott Morrison to demand that people stop hoarding, only 33% of the survey owns up to buying additional groceries to stock up.

One in five people in the survey expect to face significant financial stress as a consequence of the economic shock associated with the pandemic, and around a third of the survey expects to struggle during a downturn. About a quarter of the sample predicts the pandemic will not impact their income, and 26% reports having savings to cover a short-term loss of income.

Less than half of the sample (45%) rates the Morrison government’s response to the pandemic as either good or very good and 29% rates it as poor or very poor, with 26% characterising it as neither good nor bad. Young voters and people worried the threat is being understated are more likely to be critical of the government’s performance than other cohorts.

Respondents are more likely to want the opposition to support government decision-making to ensure things are dealt with quickly (49%) than wanting the opposition to review and challenge decisions (33%) – and 19% of the sample is unsure which of those two options they prefer.

While a proportion of the community remains sanguine in the face of the evidence, in general, people in the survey now think they are more likely to contract the virus than they did earlier in the month. Now 42% of the sample say they feel somewhat or very likely to catch the virus, compared with 31% in the survey published on 9 March.

Community concern about the coronavirus has also increased over the month, with 39% now very concerned by the threat (up from 27% at the start of the month), while 43% say they are quite concerned (up from 36%). With older Australians the most vulnerable cohort, concern is currently highest among voters over the age of 55 (41% very concerned). People in capital cities are also more worried than people in regional parts of the country.

Parliament on Monday passed the Morrison government’s first two fiscal stimulus packages during a scaled-back session. On current indications, the chambers are unlikely to sit again until October, when the Morrison government plans to deliver the budget.

The prime minister will discuss next steps to manage the pandemic with the premiers and chief ministers on Tuesday.

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