Every crisis is unique, but every crisis also has antecedents in history – especially with regard to the crisis’s effect on public opinion. In some ways, the current moment is similar to 9/11 in that it involves charged emotions and fears that go beyond those associated with a mere economic downturn. After 9/11 appeals to patriotism and to solidarity with victims and first-responders resulted in a short-term “rally-round-the-flag” sentiment. Now, a global pandemic plus nationalist rhetoric is leading to some mixed messages and contradictory emotions. “We are all in this together,” coexists with, “I am on my own and need to look out for my family.” Protect the herd and at the same time accept the fact that the vulnerable will die.
Our program brought together two organizations that have been at the front lines of opinion polling during times of crisis. IPSOS has been conducting multi-country polls about both public health and economic concerns during the time of Covid-19 and brought a broad comparative perspective to the discussion. NORC at the University of Chicago has been studying public opinion response to crises for decades and brought a uniquely historical perspective reaching back not just to such previous traumas as 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, but even back to the Kennedy Assassination. Both polling firms provided insight into what Covid-19 might mean for public opinion and values going forward.