Even before being plunged into war, people across Europe were feeling exhausted and deeply apprehensive about the future. Societies felt divided. In the earlier phase of the pandemic in 2020, we found that most people did not feel that COVID-19 had exacerbated divisions and there was no country where a majority saw it as divided. But by the end of the pandemic, a majority in every country felt divided. Indeed, the most common words people selected to define their country were: divided, corrupt, intolerant, and chaotic. Majorities everywhere said, “it’s everyone for themselves.” This is the context in which Vladimir Putin chose to attack Ukraine.
We’ll keep tracking how events in Ukraine influence our societies – and whether the initial sense of unity across Europe is sustained. We’ll also be tracking shifts in how people are thinking about key issues, such as the majority support in all six countries for action to prevent climate change, to regulate social media and to put a stronger focus on mental health. Our findings point to considerable common ground across key demographics of age and gender on issues such as the need to build a fairer society and restore our balance with nature. Despite feeling divided, there is still a path forward towards more more cohesive and resilient societies.
1) The long pandemic has left people feeling pessimistic, uncertain and distrustful. Social trust indicators have dropped since June 2020, many doubt that governments and the media are telling them the truth about COVID, and large numbers say the pandemic has hurt their confidence in our ability to tackle future challenges. We will now be tracking whether the united efforts to protect Ukrainians change these larger social dynamics.
2) Despite the urgency of other issues, respondents still believe tackling climate change should remain high on the agenda. In all six countries, the public feels not enough is being done to protect the environment. At the same time, an atmosphere of distrust in media and low confidence in government risks undermining efforts at consensus-building around climate change mitigation.
3) COVID-19 has not led to a significant clash between generations. There is a strong sense across all ages that governments should be doing more for young people. A common agenda to create jobs, fight unemployment, tackle climate change and support health care resonates across generations.
4) Being unvaccinated has become an important identity marker and a dividing line within societies. The decision not to be vaccinated reflects broader distrust toward society as much as it reflects views about vaccines. Unvaccinated people may be particularly vulnerable targets for disinformation.
5) People are looking for a reset in their relationship with social media. They are concerned about the negative impact of social media in spreading hate speech, misinformation, and fraud. In many countries, majorities want stronger regulation of social media, with younger people especially concerned about its effect on mental health.