The Coronation of Austria: Part 3

New insights from the Austrian Corona Panel Project

Barbara Prainsack, Bernhard Kittel, Sylvia Kritzinger, and Hajo Boomgaarden, University of Vienna, Austria [contact: coronapanel2020@univie.ac.at]

A lot has happened in Austria since we published our last update from the Corona Panel Project, our a weekly online survey of a representative sample of the Austrian population. The lockdown has ended, childcare facilities and schools have resumed, and this past Friday (15 May), cafés and restaurants have opened for business as well. A heated public debate has emerged over whether measures for pandemic containment in Austria have been excessive. As Austrians are becoming more mobile after restricting their movements for more than six weeks, some see the threat of a possible second wave of COVID-19 lurking. Others accuse the government of “fear mongering”, and of sacrificing the economy in the process.

How many people hold these views, and what other things have we found since our last update on 1 May?

Changing perceptions of risk. Fewer people now consider COVID-19 a public health risk. While at the beginning of the crisis in March 2020, 60% believed that this was the case, this figure has now dropped to just over a quarter. Interestingly, also the economic risks are now seen to be smaller; while 70% believed the economic risks to be high at the beginning of the crisis, this figure is now below 60%.

Yes, we can? Austria is not known for its great gender equality to start with. But the COVID-19 crisis seems to make matters even worse: Although both female and male parents now spend more time on childcare, there is a stark imbalance in how much more time they now spend on it: Just under half (47%) of all mothers, but less than a third (29%) of all fathers among said that they now spend much more time caring for their children.

Yay to new taxes… With social and economic inequalities increasing, the majority of Austrians would like to see tax burdens shift towards the rich. There strong support for the introduction of a new wealth tax, and also for an inheritance tax, which Austria does not currently have. About two thirds favour the introduction of a new wealth tax targeting specifically the rich — and almost half would support such a new tax even if it affected a much wider range of people.

Nay to UBI. While support for a Universal Basic Income — a tax-financed, fixed amount of money paid to each individual citizen that covers the cost of living — has been reported to be over 70% across Europe during COVID-19, Austrians remain divided on the topic. About the same proportion of people are in favour (42%) as are against (40%) the introduction of a UBI. A possible reason for this is that many Austrians have been cushioned from the worst effects of the crisis through work-sharing unemployment insurance, eviction bans, etc.

Our respondents trust media reporting on Corona more than reporting on other topics. International studies have shown that Austrians do not have a lot of trust in public media overall. But 56% of our respondents said they trust what public media tell them about the COVID-19 crisis — which is more than those who trust media reporting on migration (31%), climate issues (44%), and Austrian politics more generally (51%). Self-declared voters of the right-wing Freedom Party have the lowest level of trust in Corona-related media reporting.

You’ve got mail? What to do with elections during the COVID-19 crisis? Countries and regions around the world have dealt with this question in different ways; some have held elections in the traditional manner, others have moved to online or postal voting, and others again have decided to postpone. The majority of our respondents would prefer elections to go ahead despite the pandemic. 28 % would like to be able to choose between postal voting and e-voting. Only 11% would prefer to vote “traditionally” — by going to the polling station (and having the choice to vote by post if they are away from home on election day). This is despite the fact that our respondents believe that online voting is less secure than voting in person — which indicates that the health risks of going to the poll seem to outweigh people’s security concerns.

Screwed App? Very early in the crisis, the Austrian Red Cross released an app to alert people who may have had contact with a COVID-19 positive person. Only a small minority (12%) had downloaded the App by mid-April. Among the users of the app, 39% support a mandatory use of such apps, while almost just as many (35%) oppose it. Among those who had not used the app themselves, a large majority (74%) were against compulsory tracing apps.

Only the lonely: In our previous update we reported that the COVID-crisis has made the average drinker and smoker in Austria drink less, but smoke more. This trend continues. We also continue to see that the only group who both drinks and smokes more during the crisis than before are people who feel very lonely.

Summer feeling? Under half (47%) of all Austrians are planning to take a holiday in the coming summer months; one in five will be postponing their summer holiday to next year. About half would like to spend their next holiday in Austria.

These findings paint a rather complex picture of Austria coming out of the lockdown. Inequalities continue to increase, while the perceived urgency of the health risks posed by COVID-19 is decreasing. Although the majority of Austrians do not seem to feel solidarity with our European neighbours, intra-societal solidarity seems to be somewhat intact — with support for new taxes even among those who those taxes would be targeted at. This resonates with findings of other studies that in-group v. out-group polarisation tends to increase during crises.

The coming weeks will show how practices and attitudes develop as more aspects of our lives will start to feel more normal — while others, most likely, will not. Read our new update here; an overview of all updates (with links) is below.

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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