Overwhelming support for wearing masks; Australia divided on other measures

Nearly 90% of Australians support the use of masks in public places to reduce the spread of COVID-19, according to the latest Taking The Pulse of the Nation survey. It finds Australians overwhelmingly support some measures to reduce transmission, but are divided on others.

Support is highest for mandatory 14-day quarantines whenever necessary (93% of those surveyed) and reducing capacity on public transport (85%). Support is lower for weekly testing (65%), closing non-essential businesses (66%) and using mobile phone data for contact tracing (59%).

Led by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne, the fornightly survey tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians. The 16th wave of the survey was conducted from 3 - 8 August.

Four months after the first lockdowns in Australia, more people are saying they are restricting public activities (most and all of the time) to reduce the risk of transmission compared to the survey four weeks earlier (when this survey question was last asked). The increases are highest in Victoria (from 58% to 65%)  and NSW (from 36% to 50%).

Professor Guay Lim says this speaks well of people’s pro-social behaviour.

“Even though fewer people are confident that masks are an effective measure for reducing transmission (78% of those surveyed), most (89%) are willing to use masks. This suggests governments messaging around pro-social behaviour is effective.”

A Research Insight paper based on the survey looked more closely at approval of measures to restrict activities. Conservative voters are 8.9 percentage points less likely to support closing non-essential businesses, but 12.9 percentage points more likely to support mobile contact tracing. Australians under 35 are the least likely to support weekly testing.

“The responses around mask-wearing, reduced transport capacity and 14-day quarantine are good news, because they show widespread support for these measures. However the divisions on other measures suggest the government needs to invest further in building consensus around more restrictions,” Professor Ragan Petrie, one of the research authors, says.

“Strict lockdowns as we’re seeing in Victoria are costly and burdensome. In the long run, we need to find ways to increase activity while keeping the virus at bay.”

Australians’ satisfaction with the government’s handling of the pandemic fell four percentage points compared to two weeks earlier – this is true across all states, not just those facing a resurgence of the virus. But the number of people reporting financial stress, and depression and anxiety has improved in line with increased government support.

Interact with the results of the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey and explore the differences based on gender and age on our tracker page.