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Democratic dilemmas posed by the pandemic, one year on

Jordi Muñoz, Albert Falcó-Gimeno, Francesc Amat and Andreu Arenas, Universitat de Barcelona
Project selected in the Call to support research projects on the social impact of covid-19

The results of the study on which this article, produced between March 2020 and March 2021, is based indicate that the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic favoured the population’s acceptance of measures involving the restriction of freedoms, the concentration of power, and technocratic governance, especially in the first phase of the health crisis. With the passing of the months, this effect has gradually been softened. The pandemic poses a series of dilemmas for democratic systems: the first is related with the need for measures restricting freedoms; the second, with the concentration of power under a single command, and the third, with the tension between politics and technocratic logic in decision-making. Within this context, the question was posed regarding to what extent citizens are more willing to accept certain democratic restrictions when faced with a situation that threatens public health. To find out, between January 2020 and March 2021, a survey was conducted, in five waves, among a sample of the Spanish population. The same people were interviewed every three months, approximately, and for the purpose of estimating the effect of the coronavirus crisis on the democratic preferences of citizens, various survey experiments were included in the questionnaires.
Key points
  • 1
       Citizens show a strong willingness to accept the curtailment of freedoms in order to tackle the pandemic, between two and three points higher than in the case of other global threats such as international terrorism, or climate change.
  • 2
       The prohibition of demonstrations for public health reasons elicits a very high consensus, with an average of 8 out of 10, while support for mobile phone tracking barely exceeds 5 out of 10.
  • 3
       The coronavirus crisis generates a broad consensus on the need for union around a strong leadership, with an average of 8 out of 10 in March 2020, which gradually fell to reach 6.5 out of 10 one year later. Covid-19 continues to be the threat that most favours support for the concentration of power.
  • 4
       Some 47% of the population believes that there should be a single command with full powers to manage the coronavirus crisis, while this percentage is slightly above 30% when referring to the management of public affairs in general.
  • 5
       Support for European management of the pandemic stands below 5 out of 10 on average, unlike the situation with other crises such as international terrorism or climate change, which generate greater support for the European response.
  • 6
       Between January and March 2020, preferences for technocratic forms of government increased by over half a point (on a scale of 7 points). This technocratic shift in public opinion has become consolidated.
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