Beyond the pandemic

by Mike Clemence
State of the Nation

How far has COVID-19 shifted our values?

Over the past twelve months people across Britain and the world have experienced wrenching restrictions to their day-to-day lives, forcing large-scale changes in behaviour across all areas for life, from healthcare to politics, employment to leisure.

The key question for politicians, businesses and society as we look towards 2021 is: which of these changes will stick, and where might we return to ‘normal’? And underlying this question, what has the pandemic done to our values, the deep-held convictions we hold on topics such as morality, society and ideology?

In February this year we released Ipsos Global Trends, which outlined 36 values at the heart of public opinion across more than 30 countries based on 320 questions of 33,000 people. Then, to see what changed, in September we took 46 key aspects and checked them in seven major markets to measure any COVID-induced shift to our values. Here we outline some of the areas where we’ve seen significant change – or significant stasis. 

Britons are most resistant to change

Looking across the twelve trends we identify in Global Trends a strong national story is clear: the evidence for change differs between countries. Britain stands out as the least changed society (so far), with notable changes in responses to questions in just three of the twelve trends. This rate is low compared not only with China, where we have recorded changes in all twelve trends but also with more similar societies such as France and Germany which record change in seven trends.

The extent of change varies by country

Number of significant changes in attitudinal statements by country

Chart shows number of question responses that have shifted by 7ppt or more between 2019 and 2020 (total of 46, or 43 in China)

Ipsos Global Trends 2020

7,444 adults aged 16-75 (18-75 in US) in seven markets interviewed in September 2020

Concern about the climate is now baked in to the public consciousness

The green revolution rolls on regardless

In 2019, ‘climate emergency’ was the strongest of the 36 values we identified worldwide and our new data suggests that, if anything, the pandemic has strengthened concerns.

While the increase in the proportion of Britons who agree that we ‘are headed towards environmental disaster if we don’t change our habits quickly’ between 2019 and 2020 is reasonably small (five percentage points), this is the tip of an attitudinal iceberg: agreement has risen by 24 percentage points since 2013. Over those seven years our environmental values have moved from being closer to the more sceptical Americans and we are now in line with the more alarmed European mainstream.

Although this finding jars with other data, such as the rapid recovery in private road traffic compared with use of public transport, it confirms that environmentalism is now baked in to the public consciousness and will likely be an important attitudinal factor shaping our recovery over the next few years. Of course, there remains a major ‘say-do gap’ and the public are expecting business and government to help with heavy lifting, but the latent permission to act is there.

COVID-19 has not dented climate concern

We are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly

% agree

Ipsos Global Trends

c.1,000 adults aged 16-75 (18-75 in US) in each market for each wave

Renewed focus on vaccines

Britain’s strongest value in 2019 was ‘trust in medicine’ – not only reflecting our reverence for healthcare professionals and the NHS, but also a level of faith in vaccinations that far surpassed the global average.

Uncertainty and false starts on COVID-19 vaccines may have damaged vaccine acceptance, with the proportion of Britons agreeing that they believe all recommended vaccines are beneficial dropping nine percentage points to 74%. But the global picture is important here: we continue to stand out as a pro-science and pro-vaccination country, especially when compared to the US, China and France; overall 2020 saw vaccine hesitancy rise in most western countries. You can read more about vaccines here.

Uncertainty and false starts on COVID-19 vaccines may have damaged vaccine acceptance

Faith in vaccines has dropped during 2020

I believe all recommended vaccines are beneficial for me and my family


% agree

Ipsos Global Trends

c.1,000 adults aged 16-75 (18-75 in US) in each market for each wave

Brands bolstered

The uncertainty from the crisis has strengthened the importance of established brands to consumers, with a series of values including ‘brand worship’ and ‘provenance matters’ appearing at the centre of our Global Values Map. Over 2020 the importance of branding increased – there was a worldwide retreat to trusted brands during the early stages of the pandemic, as people sought to recreate familiar and nostalgic experiences and went for tried and tested products.

This rising importance now looks set to be sustained into the medium term, with our data showing that the proportion willing to spend more on a brand with an appealing image has risen across all seven countries. In Britain specifically, we’ve also seen a jump in the importance of brands projecting values and purpose: 72% of Britons now say they tend to buy brands that reflect their personal values – up from 56% less than a year ago.

Embroidered Nike logo show on phone

There is a greater role for purpose

I tend to buy brands that reflect my personal values

% agree


Ipsos Global Trends and Ipsos.Digital

1,001 British adults aged 16-75 interviewed June – July 2019 and 1,000 British adults aged 16-75 interviewed 1-2 October 2020

The end of the beginning

In some ways the changes wrought by the pandemic are predictable – greater concern around health and healthy eating; a retreat to familiar and reassuring national brands; even greater interest in provenance. Continued concern about climate change and the rise of interest in brands that aim to make a difference as well as making money will encourage businesses like B Corps, which put social outcomes at the heart of their business models. Whether the changes sticks once a vaccine finally arrives is unknown. But as many of these actually predate the pandemic it makes it more likely that these accelerations will be sustained into the medium term.

Ultimately as we plot our way out of the pandemic we can see outlines of potential futures. The key dimensions we are watching are:

  • a global economic recovery that is strong or patchy,
  • societies that evolve to be much more digital and low-touch or maintain a greater level of direct human interaction
  • social solidarity rising, or division over solutions, ideologies and culture
  • massive government stimulus directing investment in directions like green energy, and infrastructure, or a more market-led approach

We will keep tracking societal and consumer change in 2021.

Mike Clemence

Mike Clemence

Associate Director