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Pandemic, Polarization, and Expectations for Government

Rising optimism about vaccine meets rising pessimism about second wave

As the pandemic continues to exert its fierce grip on Canada we are seeing some important shifts in public outlook. In this release, we summarize some of these key shifts based on a very large probability sample of some 5,200 Canadians polled from November 13 to the 26nd. The research shows the impact of two critical new developments working in largely opposite directions; deep and rising gloom about a much worse than expected second wave and a new recognition that safe and effective vaccines have been developed. These contradictory forces are reshaping public expectations for the coming months. They are also revealing a stark polarization of the public with a strengthened majority now saying governments should be tougher and more uniform in their responses to ensure that deaths and disabilities that would be rendered wasted once vaccines are rolled out are not needlessly sacrificed in this waiting period. On the other hand, a strongly opposed group of those protesting loss of freedom, anti-mask and anti-vax outlooks have shifted from tepid compliance to outright defiance.

The tightly interwoven anti-mask, anti-vaccine segment share broad disaffection with national direction, mistrust in science and government and a generalized sense of alienation. The more reason-based majority are now showing waning patience with this offside segment and looking for governments, particularly the federal government to ensure safe passage to the refuge of a vaccine. These divisions are newly organized around partisanship with conservative voters much more likely to be in the offside segment. There is strong support for clear and enforceable rules to guide the coming months and a surprising preference for a unilaterally imposed national plan from the federal government if the provinces and feds cannot come up with a collaborative plan.

There is no consensual path to vaccine safety. There is, however, a clear majority preference for a clearer, national, and sterner response to managing the crisis in the coming months.

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