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Public opinion in times of COVID-19

Session Organiser Dr Kerstin Hoenig (German Institute for Adult Education Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE))
TimeFriday 16 July, 13:15 - 14:45

The session combines papers that deal with aspects of public opinion in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. While these research projects survey different groups of respondents — from UK household samples to children worldwide — and focus on different topics — including subjective well-being, children’s rights, and government intervention — all of them have in common that they discuss methodological challenges related to data collection during a pandemic as well as novel strategies to deal with these challenges. In addition to these methodological results, substantive findings from the respective surveys will be presented.

Keywords: Public opinion, COVID—19, children and adolescents, methodological innovations

Children’s views and experiences of Covid-19 – a Global Survey

Dr Katrina Lloyd (Queen's University Belfast) - Presenting Author

The Centre for Children’s Rights (CCR) at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) worked with a range of international partners, led by Terre des Hommes, to design and run a global online survey to capture children’s views and experiences of the realisation of their rights during Covid-19. The survey, #CovidUnder19: Life Under Coronavirus, was designed by child rights experts and 270 children from 26 countries with additional input from an international advisory group of 18 children who refined the surveys usability and accessibility. The survey was translated into 27 languages and an easy read version, and distributed through the partner organisations and on social media. Over 26000 children and young people aged between 8 and 17 years, from over 100 countries, participated in the survey which ran from June to August 2020. Members of the CCR at QUB analysed the data and developed nine thematic briefings, in collaboration with Initiative partners and an international team of child advisors. An online Children’s Skillz Camp was established which included 84 children. Sessions included learning about research and research methods and training in data analysis. A core 25 children from the Skillz Camp contributed to the survey data analysis and interpretation. This presentation will explore some of the methodological challenges that we encountered in designing and running an online survey with and for children from across the globe. Some findings on children’s perceptions of whether and how Coronavirus affected key areas of their lives including their education, health, and relationships will also be presented.


Methodological Challenges in Youth Political Participation Research

Dr Stefania Kalogeraki (University of Crete) - Presenting Author

During the last decades youth political participation patterns have considerably changed. One of the most striking changes involves young adults’ declining involvement in traditional or institutionalized modes of engagement. This decline has triggered different concerns about the potential apathy of the young generation to actively participate in democratic procedures. Nevertheless, such concerns have been refuted by studies showing that young adults might have turned away from institutionalized political actions but have engaged more actively in non-institutionalized or new forms of participation such as boycott, buycott, demonstrations, protests, signing petitions and online activism. Research on youth political participation is of great importance as young generations represent the emerging political and civic cultures in modern democracies. However, research on political youth participation encounters different methodological challenges.
First, studies on youth political participation in Europe and the United States tend to use general population based surveys, therefore the findings might not be particularly representative for young people. Secondly, most studies do not differentiate between different modes of non-institutionalized participation such as signing petitions, boycott, buycott, demonstrations, protests, occupations/sit-ins, and strikes. However, signing petitions and political consumerism (i.e., boycott, boycott) take place in the private sphere and they represent individualized modes of political participation. Protests, strikes and occupations/sit-ins take place in the public sphere and usually require more energy and time to be accomplished. Furthermore, there is no agreement with regard to the measurement of political participation on the Web. Some scholars support that online participation should simply model political acts in the offline world; others emphasize the diverse applications of social media (such as Facebook) in facilitating various venues for (low-cost) political activity. Moreover, some scholars treat online participation as a uni-dimensional mode of engagement (measured with a single index) including a wider spectrum of online activities such as donating, contacting, signing a petition, and starting or joining a political online group. However, others report distinct modes of online participation including e-targeted (such as donate and petition), e-expressive (such as blogs and social networks), e-party (such as collective or organizational forms of activity during elections) and e-news (such as attention to news and public affairs) actions.
The paper analyzing a Greek dataset of youth-over sampled survey data from the EU-funded EURYKA project unveil how the aforementioned challenges and the different operational definitions used have significant impacts on the conclusions drawn with respect to the different modes of youth political participation. Understanding youth political participation becomes more urgent nowadays as the young generation faces a plethora of challenges related, among others, with the economic crisis, with the climate change crisis, with the pandemic crisis as well as the refugee crisis. In such uncertain contexts and perspectives of grim outlook for the future the systematic investigation of young adults’ participation in their societies and in democratic practices is of crucial importance.


The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Understanding Society: The UK Household Longitudinal Study

Dr Jonathan Burton (ISER, University of Essex) - Presenting Author
Professor Annette Jäckle (ISER, University of Essex)
Professor Michaela Benzeval (ISER, University of Essex)

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In mid-March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused all face-to-face interviewing to be suspended. At the time, there were three waves of Understanding Society: The UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) active in the field, with the 13th wave of the Innovation Panel about to start. This presentation describes the adaptations required to maintain continuous data collection on the UKHLS, the changes to the questionnaire, and the effect that the shift in fieldwork design had on response rates.
However, the pandemic also created a demand for new data. This led to the creation of the UKHLS COVID-19 Study, building on the work that we had already done to test “event-triggered data collection”. The online survey started at the end of April, with the data made available to researchers through the UK Data Service at the end of May. By the time of the ESRA Conference there will have been eight waves of the UKHLS COVID-19 Study, including two waves of a telephone interview and two youth self-completion questionnaires. This presentation will also look at response rates on this regular survey, and the effect on representativeness of the responding sample when respondents to the telephone survey are included.


Combining individual and contextual data to study the dynamics of public opinion during COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Riccardo Ladini (University of Milan) - Presenting Author
Dr Francesco Molteni (University of Milan)

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To study the dynamics of public opinion during a certain time span, a very useful – albeit underutilized – research design is represented by the rolling cross-section (RCS) survey. Being based on daily interviews collected on independent samples of individuals, it has been originally designed to analyse the dynamics of public opinion during an electoral campaign, but it proved to be very effective also to study similar dynamics during the COVID-19 pandemic. An illustrative example comes from the Italian context, where a RCS survey carried out during the first phase of the pandemic by the SpS Trend Lab of the University of Milan (ResPOnsE COVID-19 project) allowed analysing social, economic and political short-term consequences of both the pandemic itself and the political choices been performed. Overall, the survey collected 15,773 online interviews from April 6 to July 8, 2020 – on average, more than 160 interviews a day. In an article recently appeared on the SRM special issue “Survey Research Methods During the COVID-19 Crisis” (Vezzoni et al. 2020), the authors illustrate the survey, by suggesting various strategies to analyse the data to address several research questions. Among the strengths of the RCS design, they highlight the possibility of combining individual and contextual data to analyse whether the dynamics of attitudes, opinions, and behaviours can be influenced by context-characteristics evolving over time. Here, we aim at overcoming this issue, by focussing on the effect that the evolving pandemics has on the dynamics of public opinion. To do so, we present a working example aiming at studying the individual opinions about what the government should do about the restrictions and the attitudes toward freedom of movement and meeting other people. Our expectation is that a change over time of the daily numbers of the pandemics – deaths, hospitalizations, contagions – could affect the dynamics of those opinions. This is expected to be particularly relevant for the Italian context, where the communication of the “numbers” of the pandemics played a crucial role in the government’s strategy: similarly to a liturgy, every day in a press conference the head of Civil Protection communicated those numbers. Especially in a phase of strict lockdown, such a conference was meant as a ‘media event’. In order to dig deeper into this, we perform two main choices. On the one side we distinguish between “positive” numbers (i.e. the number of people being recovered) and “negative” numbers (the new contagions, the number of deaths) to inspect which kind of communication displays the strongest effect on public opinion changes. On the other side, we investigate the effects of both national and local (regional) data in order to shed light on interplay between national communication and local situations. Again, this turns out to be crucial for the first phase of the pandemic in Italy because of the huge regional heterogeneity in the effects of the pandemic itself.


Predictors of subjective well-being of parents and children/ adolescents during COVID-19’s first wave in Portugal

Mrs Alice Ramos (Instituto De Ciências Sociais, Universidade De Lisboa) - Presenting Author
Miss Iva Tendais (Instituto De Ciências Sociais, Universidade De Lisboa)
Mr Ricardo Rodrigues (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL))
Mrs Leonor Costa (Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias)
Miss Evelia Alvarez (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL))

Subjective well-being has been seriously challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of a vaccine and appropriate treatment for the disease, the rapid spread across countries, and the unpredictability of the outcome has led to the adoption of restrictive public health measures, namely school closure and home confinement. The nature of the disease (e.g., highly contagious, unpredictable, long-term sequelae) and the measures adopted to tackle it have contributed to the appearance or the aggravation of pre-existing mental health problems. Parents and children/ adolescents, in particular, have been significantly affected by one of the public health measures adopted in several countries during emergency state lockdowns - school and activity centers closure. In Portugal, schools were closed from mid-March from 2020 until the end of the academic year. As part of a larger study on the social development of human values in childhood and early adolescence, an online survey was carried out from May 25 to July 13, 2020, to examine the subjective well-being of parents and children/ adolescents during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. A sample of 2385 parents and 1744 children/ adolescents (from 6 to 14 years) participated in the study and completed measures of several dimensions of well-being, including life satisfaction, emotional well-being, and perceived health status. The findings show that parental well-being was explained by individual, relational, and school-related variables, including sociodemographic variables, risk perception of COVID-19, pre-COVID satisfaction with life, personal values, personal and child-related difficulties, child well-being, amount of homework, satisfaction with close relationships, and interpersonal and institutional trust. Regarding child/ adolescent well-being, it was mostly explained by parental and school-related variables, namely the well-being and values of the parent; amount, difficulties and assistance on school-related work; child-related difficulties; and, satisfaction with friendship relationships. Taking care of a pet was also related to child/ adolescent well-being. These variables explained 34% to 40% of subjective well-being. These results highlight the importance that school-related factors had to both parental and child/ adolescent well-being during a time when schools were closed.