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Europeans approved of EU’s handling of COVID-19 this summer – but much has changed since

Students in masks pass the Euro sculpture in downtown Frankfurt, Germany, in March 2020. Restrictions had taken effect the week before to stem the spread of the coronavirus. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Students in masks pass the Euro sculpture in downtown Frankfurt, Germany, in March 2020. Restrictions had taken effect the week before to stem the spread of the coronavirus. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Coronavirus cases are rising quickly in many parts of the world, and in October, the European Union surpassed the United States in average daily coronavirus cases per million people.

Prior to the recent surge, however, new case rates across the EU were much flatter than in the U.S., and most people in eight EU countries thought their own country – and the bloc as a whole – had done a good job dealing with the pandemic, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between June 10 and Aug. 3, 2020. Here’s a closer look at findings from the survey, as well as public health and economic data about how the EU has been faring during the pandemic.  

How we did this

This analysis focuses on cross-national views of the European Union’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For this report, we used data from nationally representative surveys of 7,970 adults conducted June 10 to Aug. 3, 2020, in eight EU countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.

While the pandemic has worsened substantially since these surveys were conducted, this analysis focuses primarily on public attitudes and experiences during the summer. It builds on previous Pew Research Center studies about people’s perceptions of how their own country has handled COVID-19, as well as their views about the economy.  

This study was conducted in countries where nationally representative telephone surveys are feasible. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, face-to-face interviewing is not currently possible in many parts of the world.

The post also draws largely from external data from the EU, its statistical office and the European CDC. Additional information about the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund is drawn from Bruegel, a Belgium-based economic think tank.

In the summer, when new COVID-19 cases were relatively contained, around half or more in eight EU countries approved of their own nation’s response to the virus. More than half of adults in every EU member nation surveyed said their country had done a good job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, ranging from a low of 54% in Spain to a high of 95% in Denmark. At the time of the survey, most of these EU countries were recording relatively few COVID-19 cases each day compared to April. For example, Italy recorded 117 new cases per million people from July 1 to Aug. 1, down from 1,716 new cases per million residents between April 1 and May 1. Even Sweden, which did not participate in EU-wide lockdown measures initiated in March, saw around half as many cases per million people in July as in April (978 vs. 1,707, respectively).

COVID-19 cases have risen quickly in some EU countries after plateauing in summer
In the summer, more Europeans approved of their own country’s handling of COVID-19 than of EU’s

Most people in the surveyed countries approved of how the EU was handling COVID-19. As of August, half or more in every country surveyed said the EU had done a good job handling the outbreak, including around two-thirds or more in Germany (68%), Denmark (68%), the Netherlands (66%) and Spain (65%). Spaniards, in fact, were more approving of the EU’s response than of their own country’s (65% vs. 54%).

As coronavirus cases grew exponentially across much of Europe in the spring, the EU closed external borders and began talks on a new financial recovery package. The Center’s survey began shortly after this news was announced, and as surveying progressed, the EU recommended reopening borders, announced a comprehensive coronavirus vaccine development and deployment strategy and solidified the financial plan first announced in May.

Key EU actions to fight the coronavirus and Pew Research Center’s survey dates

People in the EU rated the bloc’s handling of COVID-19 more highly than that of the U.S. A median of 61% of adults in the eight countries surveyed said the EU had done a good job dealing with the outbreak, while a median of only 15% said the same about the U.S.

In the summer, Europeans were far more positive about EU’s handling of COVID-19 than about America’s

While the EU has now surpassed the U.S. in average daily coronavirus cases per capita, it still has significantly fewer COVID-related deaths per 100,000 people – 41 vs. 71, respectively, as of Nov. 5. And in August, when the Center’s survey was conducted, the EU had 30 coronavirus-related deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 47 deaths per 100,000 in the U.S.

Around half or more in many EU countries surveyed said their nation’s economy was doing poorly in the summer. Economic data bears out that assessment. A median of 57% of adults in these eight countries said their economic situation was in bad shape over the summer. That included 90% of adults in Italy and 84% in Spain.

Gross domestic product in the EU shrank 11.7% between the first and second quarter of this year, according to the EU statistical office – a contraction nearly four times the size of the largest quarterly contraction measured during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Italy, France and Spain experienced some of the most severe changes, with their economies contracting 12.4%, 13.8% and 18.5%, respectively, between the first and second quarter.

Across the EU countries surveyed, people who were optimistic about their national economy were also more likely to approve of the bloc’s COVID-19 response. While fewer than half of adults in every surveyed country expected their national economy to get better over the ensuing 12 months, those who expected improvement were significantly more likely to say the EU had done a good job handling COVID-19, and to have more favorable views of the bloc overall.

In mid-July, the EU unveiled a 750 billion euro ($857 billion) stimulus package to aid its 27 member nations. While specifics about how much money each country is expected to receive have not been released, it will likely be dispersed based on population, GDP per capita and average unemployment rates. Estimates suggest that Italy will receive around 22% of the grant-based funding (about 85 billion euros), while Spain will receive 19%, France 13%, Germany 12% and other countries significantly less.

EU’s ‘Next Generation EU’ fund projected to allocate the most grants to Italy, Spain

Note: Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.