Despite the media’s highlighting of protests and complaints, our polling has shown that these are all measures which the population is willing to adopt. In October, the number of Britons that claimed to be following the coronavirus rules increased by 11 percentage points to 73%, compared to 62% in September.
Throughout the long history of adversity – previous pandemics, wars, floods and the like – we know that people’s adherence is contingent on a collective social norm, where people feel everyone is in it together. We have seen people volunteer in unprecedented numbers, organise local support networks, and clap NHS and frontline workers on a weekly basis. Indeed, we have found that the public have been consistently more concerned about the risk to the country as a whole than to themselves.1
The point is, people are willing to ‘do the right thing’, but what the right thing is can sometimes be unclear. Early on, Dominic Cummings’ infamous visit to Barnard Castle set a tone that it was fine to follow your own individual ‘instincts’. Indeed, when asked about arguments against following the rules, nearly half (47%) of Britons cite the lack of people in government following the rules as a convincing excuse not to follow them themselves. Arguably, other messages that could be seen as confusing include being asked to ‘eat out to help out’ and told it was our ‘national duty’ to return to our offices and go to the pub. Then, soon afterwards being advised that contagion levels are rising due to young people (who of course are more likely to consider going to the pub being their national duty) having ‘relaxed too much’.