As COVID-19 anxiety increases, so is Canadians' trust in institutions: poll

A new poll suggests the number of Canadians saying their provincial and federal governments are doing a good job is up, along with concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

More Canadians say their governments are doing a good job and that they trust official information sources

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question on a teleconference about COVID-19. A new poll suggests trust in information from medical health authorities is increasing. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

In an atmosphere of heightened fear over the spread of COVID-19, a new poll suggests that Canadians are also becoming more trusting in official information sources and feel their governments at both the provincial and federal levels are doing a good job handling the crisis.

The survey by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between Friday and Sunday; 1,593 Canadians were interviewed online. It suggested that more and more Canadians believe that the coronavirus pandemic is a serious threat to Canada.

The poll found 68 per cent of respondents agreeing that there is a serious threat of a coronavirus outbreak in this country, an increase of 26 percentage points since the same question was last asked by the ARI between Mar. 5-6 — an enormous increase in just a matter of days.

Similarly, 76 per cent of respondents said they are now concerned about friends or family becoming sick, an increase of 23 points. Concerns about the impact COVID-19 will have on the Canadian economy, as well as individuals' own personal financial situations, are following the same trajectory.

The broader impact of the pandemic appears to be hitting home for Canadians. While 53 per cent say they are confident in their community healthcare system's preparedness, that has dropped five points since Mar. 5-6 and 10 points since early February, shortly after the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Canada.

But despite these greater concerns, Canadians do not appear to be losing faith in their institutions.

Trust in information sources up

The survey found 87 per cent of respondents saying they trust "a great deal" or "a fair amount" the information coming from their local health authorities or medical health officers. That is an increase of eight points since Mar. 5-6. A similar proportion of Canadians trust the information coming from the World Health Organization.

Trust in the information being provided by provincial governments is up 12 points to 73 per cent. Only seven per cent say they do not at all trust the information coming from their provincial governments, with the highest levels of distrust recorded in Alberta and Ontario.

Two-thirds of Canadians polled, or 67 per cent, also report trust in the information coming from the federal government — an increase of nine points since Mar. 5-6. Trust in the federal government was highest in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, while it was lowest in Alberta and Quebec.

Just over half of Canadians surveyed reported trust in the news media, up six points to 55 per cent. Quebecers reported the most trust in journalistic sources, at 62 per cent. A majority of respondents in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba said they did not trust the news media.

Quebecers most satisfied with their government

For the most part, it appears Canadians are — so far — pleased with the moves of their provincial governments. A majority of those polled in every province or region said they felt their provincial government was doing a good or very good job.

Nationwide, 69 per cent said they felt their provincial governments were doing a good job handling the pandemic. That's an increase of 18 points since Mar. 5-6, while the percentage saying their provincial governments were doing a bad job was down five points to just 21 per cent.

The biggest increase came in Quebec, where 89 per cent of respondents said the government of Premier François Legault was doing a good job. That represented an increase of 29 percentage points and was, by far, the best rating of any provincial government in the country.

Quebec Premier François Legault, right, with national public health director Horacio Arruda, left. A recent poll suggests Quebecers are the most satisfied with the performance of their provincial government during this crisis. (Jacques Boissinot / Canadian Press)

Premier Doug Ford's Ontario government scored the lowest, but 59 per cent of Ontarians still said their government was doing a good job, an increase of 13 points. On Tuesday, Ford declared a state of emergency in Ontario.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's federal government did not rate as highly, with 58 per cent of Canadians saying the government was doing a good or very good job on the crisis. That was an increase of nine points, but the proportion of Canadians feeling Trudeau's government is doing a bad job was unchanged at 34 per cent.

With the exception of Quebec, Canadians reported a net improvement in how they felt their federal government was doing. In that province, however, the share of respondents saying the government was doing a bad job jumped 11 points to 43 per cent.

Partisan perceptions of Trudeau's handling of crisis

There does seem to be some marked differences across the country in how Canadians are seeing the work of their federal and provincial governments. In British Columbia, Ontario and in Atlantic Canada, both levels of government received similar levels of approval.

But in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, the provincial governments scored far higher than Trudeau's.

Partisanship appears to be a factor influencing these perceptions. Canadians who voted for the Liberals or New Democrats in last year's federal election say they think the government is doing a good job — 82 per cent among Liberals (up four points) and 75 per cent among New Democrats (+13).

A new poll suggests more Canadians think the federal government is doing a good job handling the COVID-19 pandemic than earlier in the crisis. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

A majority of Canadians who voted for either the Conservatives or the Bloc Québécois, however, think the federal government is doing a bad job. These voters also tend to be concentrated in Western Canada and Quebec, where the federal government's handling of the issue rated worst.

Nevertheless, 33 per cent of Conservative voters said the federal government is doing a good job, an increase of 10 points.

The poll was conducted before some of the latest moves that were made by the federal government, including Monday's restriction on entry into the country by non-residents and non-U.S. citizens. How these numbers evolve in the coming days and weeks will provide a revealing glimpse of how Canadians are handling the pandemic themselves — and whether they will continue to put faith in their institutions.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.

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