Like any crisis, pandemics can unite or divide a nation. The Plague of Athens is said to have laid the seeds for the destruction of Athenian democracy as the ensuing social, political and economic chaos challenged burgeoning democratic values, making room for authoritarian leaders.
The medieval Black Death, with its stunning death tolls that affected rulers and serfs alike, challenged the rigid social-economic hierarchy as anyone left was suddenly “essential” and more valued than before—eventually unleashing a civic revival with Renaissance values.
A global Pew Research survey released this week gives us gives us an idea of the impact of the COVID pandemic on social cohesion and unity in nations. Two clear trends appear, societies fracture along preexisting fault lines, and much depends on the way leaders manage the crisis.
Canadians believe COVID has brought the country together, while Americans blame the pandemic for worsening their cultural and political divide. Some highlights:
2/3rds of Canadians believe Canada is more united as a result of the novel coronavirus, while 77% of US participants feel precisely the opposite is true south of the border.
In Canada, 88% of respondents said they approved of Canada's response to COVID-19, compared with just 47% of Americans who feel the same way about how the US has responded.
The difference of opinion in the US was tied to the political affiliations of those who took part in the survey. Of those that identified as Republican, 76% cheered the government response, compared with 25% of Democrats.
Fully 87% of Canadian respondents said their country’s response had been “much” or “somewhat” better than that in the U.S., while only 38% of Americans agreed. Nearly as many — 37% — gave the U.S. higher marks than Canada, while 25% gave no answer.
For more on the values and culture impact of COVID on local governments specifically, see COVID Values Revolution: Measuring Culture Change, Charting Civic Recovery.