Australians and Americans trust medical experts more than their elected officials, but Australians are far more supportive of their political leaders and COVID-19 restrictions, including fines for breaches and wearing masks.
The research from the University of Sydney and Latrobe University in Melbourne has found there is far less partisan division in Australian support for fines if restrictions are breached and for making it compulsory to wear masks, particularly in Victoria. Labor and Coalition voters in Australia were also more likely to trust their state and federal political leaders from both sides of politics.
Passengers wear masks on a train between Central and Wynyard.Credit:Janie Barrett
The survey found that 83 per cent of Coalition voters and 85 per cent of Labor voters supported fines for breaching COVID-19 restrictions. When it came to making masks compulsory, 59 per cent of Coalition voters and 69 per cent of Labor voters were supportive.
More than 45 per cent of Australians had a lot of trust in acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly and 41 per cent of Americans had a lot of trust in director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr Anthony Fauci. In America, 21 per cent of voters had a lot of trust in Donald Trump compared to 30 per cent of Australians who had a lot of trust in Scott Morrison.
University of Sydney's US Studies Centre political science lecturer Shaun Ratcliff said Americans were more polarised on the issue of fines, masks and lockdowns than Australians.
"It comes from the higher level of trust Australians have in both medical experts and their leaders," he said.
While Democrats were less likely to trust Republican president Donald Trump, Australian Labor voters were more likely to trust conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
"Coalition voters tend to trust Labor Premiers. So there is a lot less of that partisan division in Australia," Dr Ratcliff said. "We are more likely to trust our leaders and that seems to be flowing through to our willingness to accept restrictions on movement and requirements to wear masks, especially if you're in Victoria."
While there are some levels of opposition to COVID-19 restrictions in Australia, they were much lower than in the US. "There is a lot less heterogeneity in opinion in Australia," Dr Ratcliff said.
"If you are in the United States, you have received from some Republican leaders this message that this isn't actually that serious, it's not much worse than the flu," he said.
President Trump and some Republican governors had, at times, played down the severity of COVID-19 which had contributed to a backlash against restrictions by many Republican voters.
Dr Ratcliff said, while there were Australians who had been critical of some restrictions, it was "a much smaller part of the conservative side of politics".
"There has been a much greater uniformity of messages from political leaders and officials on both sides of politics in Australia," he said. "When Australians are getting a more consistent message that this is a serious issue and we need to take serious measures to make sure people's health and safety is protected, it provides less of an opportunity for some of this opposition to build up."
While the US had more of a libertarian culture, the inconsistency of messages from leaders had contributed to greater opposition to restrictions by Republican voters.
The research is based on a YouGov survey of 1375 Australian and 1060 American respondents was taken between August 31 and September 9 and funded by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne Policy Lab. The data was weighted to be representative of each country’s population.
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