The Coronation of Austria: Part 10

By Barbara Prainsack, Bernhard Kittel, Sylvia Kritzinger, and Hajo Boomgaarden, on behalf of the Austrian Corona Panel Project, University of Vienna, Austria [contact: coronapanel2020@univie.ac.at]

In this tenth update on findings from the Austrian Corona Panel Project (ACPP), a representative panel survey of the Austrian population aged 14 and over, the first thing to report is news about a new lockdown: From Tuesday 3 November, restaurants, cafes, and bars, will no longer allowed to serve customers on their premises, no more than two households will be allowed to meet in public spaces, and a nightly curfew will be in place. Instruments to mitigate job and income losses, such as short-time work and compensations for businesses, will be prolonged and expanded.

Even among those who believe the measures to be appropriate, there is concern about the lack of transparency in how these decisions were reached, and worries that the partial economic recovery achieved during the summer months will be undone, and many small businesses will not survive the winter. There are also open questions about adequate support for people who continue to suffer income losses (see below), and about rising levels of loneliness. While the number of people saying that they missed social contact with others had been declining steadily since the lifting of the first lockdown in May, there are now fears that people’s mental health will suffer particularly during the dark winter months. (The latest installment of the chronology of pandemic containment measures in Austria, covering the period from July to October, is available here).

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For the full timeline and analysis of policy measures see here (illustration and analysis by Markus Pollak, Nikolaus Kowarz and Julia Partheymüller]

These debates take place against a backdrop of decreasing support for the government’s anti-COVID-19 measures since June 2020, as our new findings show:

Less enthusiasm than ever for the government’s pandemic containment measures

From the beginning of the first lockdown in March, until mid June 2020, the vast majority of Austrians considered the government’s measures to fight the pandemic effective or even ‘very effective’. This has now changed. Support has declined continuously since June, reaching its lowest point in September: By that time, only about one-third of the Austrian population considered the measures to be ‘rather’ or ‘very’ effective. (In our next updates we will report on how public support for anti-COVID-19 measures has continued to develop since September 2020.)

If we take a closer look at specific measures, then two measures still enjoyed wide public support in September: physical distancing and the use of face masks. Interestingly, this is despite the fact that most people did not consider these effective. This underscores preliminary (and yet unpublished) evidence from a qualitative study based on in-depth interviews that showed that most respondents complied with the measures imposed by the government although they were critical of them.

The high level of compliance may have to do with the power of social norms, but possibly also with rising frustrations about our collective inability to curb the crisis: keeping a physical distance to other people, and covering one’s mouth and nose, may seem the lesser evil compared to restrictions on movement. And the majority clearly does not think that the crisis will be over any time soon: as the latest analyses by Lukas Schlögl show, the proportion of people who believe that it will take more than six months until life returns to normal has been continuously on the rise over the last months.

Change of (some) heart(s) about Basic Income

Perhaps also for this reason, some people have changed their view on Universal Basic Income (UBI) — defined in our survey as a tax funded monthly payment that covers people’s basic needs, replaces many social entitlements, and is paid out independent of a person’s employment status. When we first ran this survey item in April, supporters and opponents balanced each other out (with about 40% each). By August, the proportion of supporters had risen by approximately 7%, and opposition had decreased by about the same number. Because ours is a panel survey, meaning that we interview the same individuals at different time points, we could analyse what characteristics the people had who had changed their mind: The majority of new supporters had not experienced significant changes in their employment status or income since the beginning of the crisis, and said that were dealing ok with their financial situation. This suggests that these people had changed their position on UBI in principle and were not merely hoping for an improvement in their own financial situation.

At the same time, income losses and gains continue to be distributed unequally: When we asked them in September, about a quarter of our respondents said they had lost income due to the crisis, while about a fifth said they had earned more. People under 30, and those with higher levels of formal education had been hit particularly hard, while business owners with 11 or more employees, as well as higher earners in the service sector, had done better during than before the crisis.

My data for health

Austrians are known for taking the privacy of their data very seriously; also for this reason, the “Stop Corona App” released by the Austrian Red Cross in spring has never taken off. And the majority of people in Austria remains concerned about the protection of their data. Only 38% support the use of their personal data to maintain public order and security. Even fewer, namely 21%, would want to give away their data in exchange for “free” services and offers on the Internet (slightly more, 27%, would trade their personal data for financial benefits). Over 41%, however, would agree to their personal data being used to contain the Corona crisis — suggesting that data protection and privacy are not merely individualistic, self-serving concerns but a domain within which people (also) articulate their understanding of good citizenship.

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Last but not least, in our Corona Panel blog series, Otto Bodi-Fernandez and Lorenz Makula published a short piece (in German) on how our project makes data available in an open and FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) manner. You can find more details about the project, both in English and German, here.

Stay tuned for our next update in December!

I'm interested in all things bioscience, medicine & society. For more on our solidarity work, see https://barbaraprainsack.wordpress.com/about/

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