We are now almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the world, people have found their normal routines and ways of life repeatedly disrupted and for many there is not yet a clear path away from this pattern of disturbance.
Since February of 2020, the Ipsos MORI Trends and Futures team have been using signals analysis to track social change and understand the impact of the pandemic on citizens and consumers around the world through the lenses of values and trends established in Ipsos Global Trends 2020. You can see more of this analysis here.
The main survey was conducted in mid-2019, providing a snapshot of the values of a world immediately pre-Covid. In September 2020, we re-ran a subset of questions from the main survey in seven markets – the US, China, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Brazil to provide a new perspective on the extent to which the changes in our behaviour caused by the pandemic begun to filter through as shifts in our opinions, attitudes and values.
How do societies change?
Our theory of social change segments drivers of change into three tiers: macro forces, social trends and signals of the future.
- Macro forces are the long-term shifts which are more predictable and act across all markets and societies – for instance ageing, urbanisation or climate change. These form the context against which people and organisations act.
- In the middle, we have social trends. These are cultural attitudes and values which emerge from the interaction between people and the planet.
- At the other end of the scale, signals are localised, short-term expressions of change. They can occur at the level of a single country, market or community.
Our model acknowledges the important role of feedback loops in terms of understanding the complexity in our world. For instance, the growth of plant-based diets starts as a response to top-down pressure from the macro forces of climate change – but its adoption by a wider segment of society will, over time, affect the extent to which climate change impacts the planet.
COVID-19 has been a sudden shock to this system. Initially it has acted as a macro force through its immediate and global impacts, drawing an immediate tsunami of signals but without having as notable an impact on the social trends at the centre of the model. Now, as the pandemic lengthens, social trends will begin to shift in response to pressure from the top down and bottom up.
Our values – the deep-seated currents of public opinion – tend to be durable into the medium term. For instance, between the eighties and the present day in Britain we’ve seen a great shift in views on some issues such as drugs, homosexuality and the death penalty; yet values around matters like adultery have barely shifted at all.
Our aim with this new wave of Ipsos Global Trends is to provide insight into the extent to which the gigantic impact of COVID-19 on our lives has begun to affect our values.
Where do we see more change so far?
Firstly, our survey reveals that the extent of change differs between countries. From our sample of seven markets we’ve seen the least change in Great Britain – of 46 statements covering the Ipsos Global Trends values, just three record a significant shift between 2019 and 2020. This contrasts most strongly with China where we have recorded the most wide-ranging shifts in response, but it also differs from other European nations such as Germany and France, which have also seen a greater rate of change.
Looking at the twelve trends from Global Trends 2020, across the seven markets the greatest level of change is focused on six, associated with climate, healthcare, the role of brands, globalisation and reactions to uncertainty and inequality.
- Under climate antagonism we have seen a strengthening of the climate emergency value – despite the immediate threat of COVID-19 increasing numbers of people agree that climate change is the longer-term risk to humanity
- Authenticity is king covers the importance of branding to consumers, and our data confirms that under COVID-19 we’ve seen the power of big, nostalgic brands continue to climb
- The conscientious health trend shows, unsurprisingly that health is moving up the agenda for consumers and may influence their choice of products
- With choices over healthcare our data records a note of scepticism entering public views of vaccinations, even as the global race to develop a jab against COVID-19 looks to be entering the home straight
- Peak globalisation may not have been reached – we see perceptions of the impact of globalisation continuing to get more positive. But at the same time we see a rising tension as the value of local and national brands and products have been strengthened
- Across the seven markets we’ve also seen shifts in reactions to uncertainty and inequality. National pride has been cast in a different light as we record surges in patriotism in countries like Germany and Italy, which responded well to the first wave of COVID-19.
Where have we recorded less change?
At this stage in the pandemic it remains the case that we have recorded less change in those trends tied to our deeper, ‘big picture’ values – among them hedonism, the appeal of nostalgia, feeling overwhelmed by modern life and views on income inequality, which remain strongly affected by culture.
However, we have also seen less movement on some of the big issues for the 21st century – namely attitudes towards data and technology.
In particular, our data dilemmas remain unresolved: public opinion is still governed by a tension between feelings of anxiety and wanting to prevent any access by governments and companies; and a fatalistic outlook of apathy, lack of awareness and disinterest about how our personal data is handled, and by whom.
Looking to the future
With recent news of a viable vaccine entering the late stages of its development, our update of Global Trends comes at what can be considered the end of the beginning of the pandemic. For many, the hope at the start of 2020 that this would be a short-lived experience have been dashed by the re-imposition of lockdowns and quarantine requirements as well as continued economic hardship. As these measures become a longer-lasting facet of daily life we can expect the pace and extent of change to increase.
Yet our new data is a good reminder that the pandemic has not changed everything – we’ve seen huge behavioural shifts, but the attitudinal changes behind them have been smaller. The areas where we do see more change include attitudes to brands, health resilience and localism. Yet there remain large areas where values have shifted little, if at all: these include environmental concern, attitudes to technology and data and our deeper ideological divides.
And a final note: we are still less than a year into the pandemic. Even with the prospect of effective vaccines in early 2021 there is a long way to go and there remains the potential for the pandemic to shape our opinions, attitudes and values into the new decade.
Watch our webinar
Do take some time to watch our webinar with Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI to explore how much have underlying attitudes and values have really changed during the coronavirus pandemic.