The Coronation of Austria, Part 9: Postal Votes, Polarisation, and Protecting Others

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]

Things have not exactly improved since our previous update in September. Infection numbers in Austria have continued to rise, and certain regions — including the country’s capital, Vienna — have been declared high risk areas by other countries. While businesses and schools remain open, some regions have limited opening hours, and the use of face masks is now mandatory in all restaurants and shops across the country. In Vienna, those visiting cafes or restaurants must leave their contact details upon entering.

What new things have we learned from our representative panel survey, the Austrian Corona Panel project, since our last update?

First up, let us stick with the topic of face masks. Around the world, the mandatory covering of the nose and mouth has faced so much resistance that its opponents even got their own name: Anti-maskers. In Austria, they seem to be a loud, but small minority: Our data show that four in five (81%) Austrians support the compulsory use of masks in shops and public transportation. Only one in ten strongly oppose this rule. Moreover, support for mandatory face mask use has increased since June, when less than half of our respondents (44%) were in favour. This means that support for this measure fluctuates alongside infection numbers — suggesting that most Austrians do believe in the effectiveness of face masks to lower infection risk.

We also found that in mid September, a majority (54%) of Austrians considered the risk of a second wave as serious; this figure had increased continuously over the summer. In September it was highest among people over 65-year-olds, women, and voters of the Green party — while those supporting the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) are the least concerned. Perceptions of economic risks related to the COVID-pandemic have not followed the same course: The number of people considering these as very high has decreased since the lockdown in April. Given the economic hardship of many people due to growing job and income losses, this is surprising.

Another interesting fact: Most people consider their own personal risks to be lower than the risks faced by most others; this applies to economic risks in particular. In conjunction with the high support for the mandatory use of face masks, this indicates that solidarity — understood as people’s willingness to give up something (e.g. comfort, time, money) to support others — is still relatively high.

In terms of people’s support for the government’s measures to contain the pandemic, Corona Panel Project members Sylvia Kritzinger and Fabian Kalleitner found an increasing polarisation in the Austrian population. Up to the middle of May (when most restrictions were eased or removed), a large majority (over 70%) considered the government’s measures as exactly appropriate. As infection numbers were decreasing throughout June, support for governmental measures dropped as well. By mid September, less than half (47%) of our respondents still considered them appropriate, while about a quarter each considered the measures as too lenient (27%) or too extreme (25%).

[Analysis and image by Sylvia Kritzinger und Fabian Kalleitner]

We will track how these views and perceptions develop throughout the autumn and winter — and we are curious to see how they will manifest themselves in the upcoming Viennese elections on 11 October. Registrations for a postal vote for this election have broken records; this is mirrored also in our Coronapanel data: Carolina Plescia and colleagues showed that across voters of all political parties, support for a postal vote is on the increase. About a quarter considers the infection risk at polling stations as high, or very high. A majority of the latter (57%) said they would prefer a postal vote. Among those who consider the risk as small, only about a third would prefer this option.

Stay tuned for our next update early November! And let us know if you have comments or questions.

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