So much has happened in the last month: Pfizer/BioNTech published its first results on the coronavirus vaccine, showing it to be up to 95% effective. 

As lockdowns and other restrictions help curb rising infection rates across Europe, the UK’s vaccine rollout kicked off this week.

With the UK Prime Minister reportedly facing opposition from within his own party over the second lockdown, it’s reasonable to assume dissent is widespread. In reality, supporters outweigh the opposition by a large margin. 

Nevertheless, positivity could be higher. And while the progress of vaccines is encouraging, identifying groups feeling particular strain will help manage the transition back to normality. 

In October we carried out a similar vibe check, and found Gen Z were the least likely to comply with regulations. Our latest Zeitgeist instalment shows frustration rising among particular groups in the U.S. and UK, countries either planning to introduce tighter restrictions or prolong them. 

A bite-sized overview:

  • Support generally runs high, but skepticism and frustration are building within certain attitudinal and behavioral groups. 
  • These individuals are more likely to be young, living in urban areas, and hold conservative views.
  • Urban socialites are at the forefront of dissent in the UK. Rather than pointing the finger, messaging needs to recognize the sacrifices many have made throughout 2020. 
  • While in the U.S., more bipartisan support for public safety measures will be a key contributing factor in determining how well the country contains the virus in the meantime. 
  • When addressing the problem of compliance, governments also need to account for those most vulnerable to COVID’s aftershocks.

Second time’s not the charm. 

In the UK, there’s been a general shift in public mood. In April, at the start of the first lockdown, 56% were optimistic the UK would overcome the outbreak. By July, this dropped to 40%. 

Despite optimism declining, people are generally understanding of the rules; but in some cases, frustration has taken its place.

Opposed reactions to the lockdown are driving an emotional split across the UK. For those in favor of restrictions, “calm” is the most commonly cited emotion; whereas frustration dominates among critics. 

Two very different camps of people have taken shape in a short space of time.

Some quick analysis of those opposed to restrictions outlines where feelings come from. They over-index for being spontaneous, outgoing, and engaging in risk-taking, which tends to be how they’re framed in the media. But other factors are at work too, and will become pressing as vaccine distribution begins.

They tend to be more interested in alternative medicines, which suggests some distrust of traditional health. Some are likely motivated by suspicion of the government in general, as they over-index for worrying about how their movements are tracked online. 

It’s therefore important to understand who this group is, to ensure governments’ COVID-19 mitigation efforts are enacted as smoothly as possible. 

Support drops among urbanites, and on the political right.

Around 6 in 10 UK consumers were in favor of the recently concluded second national lockdown. 

While people are understandably fatigued and in some cases, frustrated, they generally remain supportive of strict public health measures to combat the virus.

Debate on the subject has become very polarized in recent weeks, but on the population level, acceptance prevails. 

Advocates outnumber opponents

Yet, our research suggests that resistance increases as lockdowns place barriers between people and the lifestyles they’re used to.  

It’s tempting to make age-based assumptions, but that doesn’t always correlate with lockdown attitudes. In the U.S., while 45-54s are most opposed to lockdown measures, 55-64s are most supportive.

Initially, urbanites were the most likely to be avoiding crowded places, public transport, and social gatherings; but they’re running out of steam. 

In October, when we asked UK consumers how frequently they adhered to government guidelines on social distancing in public, those in urban areas were least inclined to say they did all or most of the time. Our November research shows a continuation of this trend – with 52% of urbanites in favor, compared to 61% of suburban and rural residents.

Other telling predictors of lockdown attitudes are frequency of exercise and travel; the more often you do either, the more likely you are to oppose lockdowns.

At this stage of the pandemic, we ought to recognize these habits are key to peoples’ identities, and messaging around the topic has to respect the trade-offs people are expected to make. 

Across the pond, U.S. cases have started to surge again; and there’s evidence policymakers are starting to think along the same lines as Europe. But with anti-lockdown sentiment enhanced among U.S. citizens, it’s possible frustration here could be higher if rules are tightened. 

Similar location and lifestyle patterns do emerge, but aren’t as pronounced as in the UK. Instead, the main predictor of compliance is political affiliation, with Democrats demonstrating higher levels of support for public safety measures than Republicans. 

Among those celebrating the holidays with close/extended family or friends, Republicans are 27% more likely than Democrats to say they plan on meeting in-person (67% do). 

The focus going forward should be on framing compliance as a public health issue, rather than a political one; and on driving a sense of collective responsibility across the whole country. 

The term “vulnerable groups” needs expanding.

To account for variations in mood and behavior, we need some context around the economic effects of the pandemic – which are anything but universal. 

Studies indicate that those joining the workforce amid a recession face lasting consequences, like lower life-expectancy and depressed wages; and our data shows the early warning signs of these long-term effects on certain groups – which are often an afterthought in risk assessments. 

Worst affected cohorts

Of the vulnerable groups we mention, women aged 16-24 are most likely to have lost their job or suffered a pay-cut during the pandemic.

Concentrated within the hospitality and retail sectors – industries ravaged by the outbreak – these women take the top spot when it comes to putting the brakes on non-essential buying. 

74% of 16-24-year-old women would rather save up and wait to buy a product, than sacrifice other spending to buy it sooner. Demand for personal effects like clothing and shoes is building; but deals, discounts and influencer drops will be needed to encourage postponed buying. 

In October, Gen Z were the least likely to say they followed government guidelines, and our November research gives us more insight into why

Gender aside, the likelihood of being furloughed or made redundant peaks among 16-24s, and decreases with age. Relative financial hardship can inspire feelings of neglect and disempowerment when left ignored. 

Restoring some faith now will drive behavioral change and reduce the levels of economic anxiety many young, part-time or redundant workers are taxed with. 

Governments and brands have a responsibility to give vulnerable individuals practical advice or experience. Brands across the UK are taking part in the government’s new Kick Start programme, which funds placements for 16-24s at risk of long-term unemployment.

This kind of sensitivity will generate a grateful band of loyal followers post-COVID, while protecting those most exposed to the financial effects of the virus – so they can go through the usual rites of passage on a similar timeline to their parents. 

Some brands have taken the initiative to highlight unemployed youths in their CSR plans. Google, for example, has announced it’ll be contributing $1 million to support young job seekers; while other brands have established their own internal training schemes to support government efforts. 

The final verdict

Bunching people together by age to predict lockdown attitudes misses some important nuances.

Frustration is rising among those who feel the restrictions present a threat to their lifestyle or political outlook; and it’s better treated before it causes further problems down the line.

Brands can step up to the plate and harmonize their messaging with that of government channels. They’re able to work alongside fitness and travel influencers to express the importance of adhering to guidelines while engaging in these pursuits, in a fun and entertaining way. Government agencies like the HSE, for example, have already taken to TikTok to relay official COVID-19 protocol. 

Lockdown opinions aside, younger consumers tend to be the most financially affected – which can also inspire a “What’s the point?” attitude toward compliance.

In the UK, where around a quarter of 16-24s feel anxious about the recent restrictions, more could be done to remedy this. 

Even when COVID-19 is contained, societies’ had better brace for a long hangover. Ultimately, those with effective counteractive measures in place are set to recover more rapidly, and eventually prosper. 

Click to access our connecting the dots 2021 report

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