Focus on Spanish Society. December 2020
Fecha: diciembre 2020
Section I. Spain in Europe
I.1. A particularly strong impact of the pandemic on personal finances
The European Parliament has commissioned specific surveys to track the opinions, attitudes and activities of European Union citizens during the COVID-19 crisis. These surveys offer information about the impact on Europeans of the pandemic, thus supplementing the abundant macroeconomic data provided by national statistics offices.
According to the third wave of the survey “Public opinion in the EU in times of COVID-19” (administered at the beginning of October 2020), one out of every four inhabitants of the European Union (27%) acknowledge a loss of income since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. However, international differences are significant (Figure I.1). Spain ranks –together with Hungary, Greece and Bulgaria– among the countries with the highest shares of persons stating that they have suffered a loss of income. Italy and France –both countries also being heavily reliant on tourism, as well as very hard hit by the health emergency– report significantly smaller percentages (33% and 20%, respectively).
As expected, higher shares of the population affected by income loss concur with higher shares of the population resorting to personal savings sooner than planned. Thus, around one third of Spanish respondents (31%) declare having had to draw upon savings whereas the corresponding proportions in France (15%), Germany (14%) and The Netherlands (12%) remain below one sixth (Figure I.2). Furthermore, while nearly one fi fth of Spanish interviewees (19%) state having had difficulties affronting housing expenses, in France, Germany and The Netherlands, people recognizing these problems fluctuate around 10%.
Despite the strong impact of the pandemic on personal finances, as of October 2020, the need to ask networks of family and friends for money has remained moderate. One out of every seven Spanish respondents (14%) has asked family and friends for financial help. Corresponding percentages for France, Germany and The Netherlands are below 10%. (Figure I.2) The data support the argument that families are particularly important welfare providers in Southern European countries.
I.2. Prioritizing public health over economic activity and individual freedoms
How to strike a balance between preventing the spread of coronavirus and averting economic breakdown provoked by mobility restrictions and social distancing has been the central question plaguing many governments all over the world during the past months. The emergency situation has, in general, widened the leeway of governments to adopt urgent and resolute measures, but citizens’ attitudes towards restrictions may have also constrained their decisions. The third wave of “Public opinion in the EU in times of COVID-19” reveals large international differences regarding these attitudes.
In most Eastern European countries, ample majorities think that the economic damage from coronavirus restrictions is greater than the health benefits. By contrast, people living in Western European countries are more evenly distributed between this opinion and the opposite (“The health benefits are greater than the economic damage”). Spain ranks in the group of countries with percentages below the EU average (48%) of people considering that the economic impairment caused by restrictions is greater than the health benefits (Figure I.3).
The opposition to restrictions on the grounds of their impact on individual freedoms is also more widespread in Eastern European countries. In Slovenia, Bulgaria, Poland, Croatia and Hungary, people against limitations of individual freedoms even under current circumstances clearly outweigh those thinking that the fight against coronavirus fully justifies them. By contrast, in Spain, less than one third of the population declares being strongly opposed to any limitations of personal liberties. The share is still smaller in the Nordic countries, as well as in Ireland, Malta, Portugal and Luxembourg (Figure I.4).
I.3. Higher acclaim for Merkel at present
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel became, for large parts of Southern European societies, the symbol of austerity measures during the Great Recession. Her public image suffered from her government’s alignment with the deficit containment policies of the Troika. Even today, arguments linking the imposition of deficit cuts during the financial crisis with the disadvantageous situations of some countries in the battle against coronavirus find considerable resonance in Southern European media.
However, as confirmed by representative surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, public confidence in Merkel as a world leader has increased in many countries since the beginning of economic recovery, and particularly since the outbreak of the pandemic. Aside from Germany, growing approval for Merkel is evidenced by opinion data collected in France, The Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain.
The Spanish population has significantly increased its confidence in Merkel as a leader capable of doing “the right thing regarding world affairs”. In 2014, only around one third of Spanish interviewees declared “a lot” or “some” confidence in Merkel, whereas in the summer of 2020, the share reached nearly three quarters of the population (72%). By that time, France and the United Kingdom had shown even larger shares of people trusting Merkel as a world leader, but the rise of the favorable opinion towards the Chancellor has been swifter in the case of Spain (Figure I.5).
The answers of Spanish interviewees gain significance when compared with data collected by the Center for Sociological Research (CIS) on the confidence of the population in the president of the Spanish government. Despite the difference in the formulation of both questions (see the wordings beneath Figure I.6), the respective results can be soundly contrasted inasmuch as they provide a measure of confidence using the same answer options (“a lot of confidence”, “some confidence”, “not too much/little confidence” and “no confidence at all”). While in the summer of 2020, 34% of Spanish interviewees manifested a lot of confidence and 38% some confidence in Merkel “to do the right thing in regarding world affairs” (in sum, 72%), the confidence that the Spanish President generated amounted to 6% and 24%, respectively (in sum, 30%).
Section II. Public opinion trends
Sizable (transitory?) vaccination hesitancy
As recently published by Nature Research, “(i)n the midst of a global pandemic, the issue of public confidence in vaccination is more urgent than ever”.1 But vaccine hesitancy (i.e. “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”), which the World Health Organization (WHO) defined in 2019 as one of the ten threats to global health,2 is high in certain countries and among certain social groups.
Among European societies, Spain ranks relatively high as regards trust in vaccines, as shown by a Eurobarometer poll published in March 2019. Thus, for example, the percentage of Spanish respondents who declared that they tended to disagree or totally disagreed with the opinion “Vaccines are important to protect not only yourself but also others” was small (5%) compared with the shares reported for Hungary, Greece and Belgium (around 10%), as well as for Italy, Romania and Austria (oscillating between 16%-20%) of the respective samples.3
It is therefore surprising that, according to a recent public opinion poll administered in October by the Center for Sociological Research (CIS), nearly half of a representative sample of the Spanish population (47%) would not be willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it arrives (one month earlier the corresponding share was 7 percentage points smaller). They outweigh by 10 percentage points those respondents who show willingness (37%), while an additional 13% does not know yet or manifests doubts (Figure II.1). Men are more willing to get vaccinated than women, and while more youths and adults reject than accept the vaccine for themselves, the opposite is the case among elderly people: the number of interviewees aged 65 and older positively predisposed towards the vaccine is greater than people of this age group opposed to getting it (Figure II.2).
Respondents with tertiary education show smaller proportions of indecisiveness, but the share of those against getting vaccinated is likewise 10 percentage points higher than the share of those willing to do it (Figure II.3). Ideology also makes a difference as regards attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccine. Among respondents who place themselves on the left side of the political spectrum (positions 1 to 4 on a 10 point scale), those manifesting their willingness to get the vaccine outweigh those who are not ready to do it (Figure II.4). The contrary becomes evident among respondents who place themselves on the center-right to right side (5-10).
It is true, however, that people may reply with a “no” to the question “Would you be willing to get the vaccine immediately as soon as it is available?” because of different reasons: either because they don’t trust vaccines in general, out of prudence (they want to first confirm that the new vaccines are effective and have more information about possible side-effects), or even because of coronavirus negationism. The second of these hypotheses seems currently the most plausible. In any case, the results of previous surveys (see note 3) and the absence of a powerful anti-vaccination discourse and movement in Spain suggest that the sizable vaccination hesitancy evidenced by the October CIS survey may be temporary and probably subside as new information about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and their benefits for public health gets published.
1 Nature Milestones, “Public trust in vaccines”, November 2020 (https://www.nature.com/articles/d42859-020-00024-5).
2 Together with air pollution and climate change, antimicrobial resistance and weak primary health care or fragile and vulnerable settings, among others. See WHO, “Ten threats to global health in 2019” (https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/ten-threats-toglobal-health-in-2019).
3 Special Eurobarometer 488 (“Europeans’ attitudes towards vaccination”), March/April 2019, page 42 (https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/vaccination/docs/20190426_special-eurobarometer-sp488_en.pdf).