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COVID-19 Produces Pervasive and Strong Anxiety

[Ottawa – March 27, 2020] Canadians are unified in seeing the COVID-19 pandemic as the challenge of a lifetime. Most Canadians say it eclipses the September 11th attacks in terms of severity and this sense of urgency rose during our field period. Overall, 73 per cent think this is the most serious challenge Canada has faced in 50 years (only 12 per cent disagreed). This sense of historic urgency rose form 70 per cent to 75 per cent over the week of polling.

The urgency has translated into the highest confidence in the direction of the country and the federal government that we have ever seen, ever. Confidence in national direction is now 71 per cent but rose remarkably form 66 per cent to 74 per cent over the field period. Confidence in the federal government is at 75 per cent, the highest score EKOS has ever recorded. Majorities in virtually all regions and demographic categories express confidence whereas there would have been single digit confidence in some of those groups a month ago.

This confidence in direction also extends to national and provincial leaders with all premiers and the prime minister scoring very highly on their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. François Legault scores an astonishing 95 per cent. All leaders are faring well with the notable exception of Donald Trump whose handling of the crisis gets an abysmal 19 per cent (which declined as the week went on).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the clear majority of Canadians are experiencing serious stress and the proportion of Canadians reporting a serious level of stress rose modestly throughout the field period. It may be that the psychologic damage cause by this pandemic and the ensuing economic despair that will follow may inflict more damage to the health of Canadians than the pandemic itself. Ironically, it is those who have the highest mortality from COVID-19 – seniors – who seem the least anxious. The comparatively higher stress levels expressed by younger generations may reflect their greater susceptibility to the economic fallout.

The last thing on the public’s mind is politics and elections, but it is anecdotally noteworthy that the Liberals have moved into a large lead that would produce a clear majority in the highly hypothetical election. Similarly, Legault has vaulted to a massive lead in Quebec and, while Doug Ford has garnered an impressive approval rating on his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, he still trails the Ontario Liberals by nine points.

The public are telling the federal government that they approve of the COVID-19 measures implemented to date. If anything, they want the government to do more – not less – as this unfolds. Indeed, only five per cent think measures have gone ‘too far’. This sentiment is also expressed in strong majority support for implementing the Emergencies Act. Apparently, there are no libertarians in fox holes and the niceties of privacy and some civil rights are being put on the back burner for now.

The bottom line is that we are seeing once-in-a-lifetime alarm levels in a public that is broadly approving of senior governments in Canada. Seemingly irreparable partisan and regional fault lines have largely disappeared as a deeply anxious public ask governments to do whatever it takes to deal with this historic health and economic crisis.


This survey was conducted using High Definition Interactive Voice Response (HD-IVR™) technology, which allows respondents to enter their preferences by punching the keypad on their phone, rather than telling them to an operator. In an effort to reduce the coverage bias of landline only RDD, we created a dual landline/cell phone RDD sampling frame for this research. As a result, we are able to reach those with a landline and cell phone, as well as cell phone only households and landline only households.

The field dates for this survey are March 19-26, 2020. In total, a random sample of 2,304 Canadians aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/- 2.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Please note that the margin of error increases when the results are sub-divided (i.e., error margins for sub-groups such as region, sex, age, education). All the data have been statistically weighted by age, gender, and region to ensure the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of Ontario according to Census data.

Please click here for a PDF copy of this article.

Please click here for the full data tables.

Please click here for a copy of the questionnaire that was used for this survey.

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