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Public opinion and COVID-19 (Part 1)





of trees and forest manny villar

I love reading surveys, and not just those pertaining to politics or elections. I enjoy reading public opinion polls because, when done correctly and using rigorous scientific methods, they showcase what our people are thinking and feeling at a particular period of time.

From the point of view of democratic governance, polls are undoubtedly valuable for policy makers because it allows them to get a reading on the public pulse that might affect policy decisions. But even when one is not in government, it is fascinating to read how people think regarding particular issues. It is an important step towards knowing what people think and feel instead of conjectures and speculations.

Recently, I came across a number of public opinion surveys, locally and globally, about the coronavirus that I thought are important to understand and reflect upon. Pulse Asia Research, Inc., reported on their findings on COVID-19 from the November 2020 Ulat ng Bayan national survey conducted November 23 – December 2, 2020, using face-to-face interviews, with a sample of 2,400 representative adults 18 years old and above.

It showed that an overwhelming 94% of Filipinos are concerned about contracting COVID-19. This was confirmed by the Social Weather Stations’ national Social Weather Survey of November 21-25, 2020, which found that a record-high 91% of adult Filipinos are worried (consisting of 77% worried a great deal and 14% somewhat worried) that anyone in their immediate family might catch COVID-19. According to SWS, the November, 2020, percentage of those worried about catching COVID-19 surpassed the previous record of 87% (73% worried a great deal, 14% somewhat worried) in May, 2020, when SWS first surveyed about it.

This means that despite criticisms from some quarters that Filipinos are ignoring the dangers of the virus as they flaunt safety guidelines, the truth is that our people are aware of the dangers of contracting the virus. But why do we see some people violating protocols?

The same Pulse Asia survey reported that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 58% lost their job or source of income while 51% experienced emotional problems. In addition, a big plurality of Filipino adults (44%) said their salary or income decreased due to the pandemic. Do people go out of their homes in order to intentionally violate rules? Or because they need to go to their jobs and protect their livelihood? Or because they need just a little bit of a break in order to get some sense of normalcy back in their lives?

I think we need to also focus on the emotional toll of the virus on our people. Being stuck at home for a prolonged period of time – some of them alone – with few social contact, can be taxing psychologically.

Many of our people will certainly stay at home if they can afford to stay at home. Our country will be in a prolonged lockdown if we can afford to shut down everything for a long period of time. But sadly, we can’t. The numbers do not justify not following the guidelines but it does provide a better understanding why people do certain things.

The fact of the matter is that majority of Filipinos do follow the safety protocols. Pulse Asia said that most Filipino adults clean their hands on a regular basis (71%), use face masks (66%), stay at home unless a trip outside is necessary (32%), and observe social distancing (30%).

Equally interesting are opinions about the vaccines. Several vaccines have been approved globally and the Philippine government has already announced it finalized a number of deals for vaccines to be administered to Filipinos. But do our people want to be vaccinated? The surveys offer interesting insights.

(To be continued)