British Columbia

Most in B.C. think they're great at physical distancing but critical of others, survey suggests

New survey shows 89 per cent of British Columbians rate themselves very high when it comes to following physical distancing but are critical of overall adherence.

89% give themselves top ratings while 24% say they're having less sex

Two people sit on a bench overlooking the Victoria Harbour. Public health officials are imploring British Columbians to physically distance from one another in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

British Columbians rate themselves quite highly in adhering to physical distancing measures but are far more critical of the province's efforts as a whole, a new survey suggests.

In a poll of 817 B.C. residents, 89 per cent ranked themselves an eight, nine or 10-out-of-10 when it comes to physical distancing. No one gave themselves a three or lower.

However, respondents were far more critical of how the province is doing generally — only 35 per cent gave an eight or higher.

"It's an interesting phenomenon that individually we think we are doing a good job in social distancing, but we don't think our neighbour is doing the same," says Steve Mossop, president of Insights West which conducted the survey.

Many in B.C. also seem to think young people are doing the worst job at following physical distancing guidelines.

Results across age demographics found the majority, 55 per cent, gave young people a ranking of five or lower. 

But those young adults, aged 18 to 34, disagreed. Those surveyed gave themselves an even higher rating than the average in B.C. — 91 per cent thought they deserved at least an eight or more.

The power of social norms

In a statement, Mossop said public instances of shaming offenders, whether on social media or in the news, may have lent the impression that society is doing worse than it is.

Azim Shariff, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of British Columbia, says this shame can be a very good reinforcement tool. 

"It's hard for people to think about risk, and it's particularly hard for them to think about risk that has to do with counter factuals [like] 'if don't go outside, something bad won't happen'," Shariff said. 

Social norms and reputation are easier to understand — and makes people more responsive.

"The power of social norms [is] you don't force people, you don't fine them, you don't have to put them in jail, you just rely on the fact that they care about their own moral reputations. They care about appearing like a good person to everyone else around them."

Other shifts in behaviour

The poll also reinforced some of the more expected shifts in behaviour.

British Columbians have dramatically increased their consumption of news, are cooking and using social media more and talking more with family. About 58 per cent are spending less money.

When it comes to alcohol, those surveyed were split on whether they're drinking more.

However, being at home more has not apparently translated into more intimacy. The survey found 24 per cent are having less sex.

In this poll, a comparable margin of error  — which measures sample variability — would be plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


Lien Yeung


Lien Yeung is a host and reporter with CBC Vancouver News. She has covered stories locally and nationally from Halifax to Victoria on television, radio and online. Find her on Instagram or Twitter @LienYeung or via email at

With files from On The Coast


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