Future of Democracy

Corona Restrictions: Who wants to lift them and why?

Study analyses perceptions of the lockdown measures

Trust matters more than self-interest: Our survey conducted among roughly 4,800 participants in April and May 2020 shows that the discussion about easing restrictions is not so much about the varying degrees to which individuals are affected, but rather about the degree of trust in public institutions in general.

Winning support for Corona restrictions

The measures to control the coronavirus have led to widespread restrictions for different parts of society. Main political actors have made appeals for solidarity to win support for the corona restrictions. In Germany, numerous financial compensation measures have been issued, such as the so-called “child bonus”.

However, the present study raises doubt on whether such instruments increase support for restrictive measures. After all, feeling threatened by the restrictions either economically or regarding one´s family hardly has any influence on the (dis-)approval of rules that aim at containing the spread of the virus.

The study shows that respondents believe restrictions will have a much more serious impact on society at large than on their personal circumstances. Only 10 percent feel personally threatened by the containment measures in the area of family life, only 15 percent perceive a personal economic threat (job loss or financial hardship), and about 23 percent fear an infringement on their own basic rights.

The corresponding values for perceived sociotropic threats are much higher: 51 percent (family), 56 percent (economy), and 32 percent (basic rights), respectively.


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Reasons to demand the easing of restrictions

Who is particularly in favor, who is against easing the corona measures? The analysis by Claudia Diehl and Felix Wolter shows: Those who feel threatened by the social consequences, such as restrictions of basic rights, are more likely to demand immediate easing. In that respect, the fear of personal consequences both economically and concerning family life plays a comparatively minor role.

„Our findings are important for the question of how enforceable policy goals are that require the population to make great efforts to achieve a societal goal – for example, curbing climate change,“ says Claudia Diehl. The sociologist sees the study as an indicator that the lack of acceptance of such measures is primarily based on fear of their social consequences, next to a general lack of trust in state institutions.

„The positive message of our study is that it is to a certain extent in the hands of politicians themselves,” adds Felix Wolter. In order to achieve greater approval for comparable political goals, the most promising strategy is to build up trust in government action in the long term. In terms of restrictions on the pursuit of overall societal goals, he added: Measures must be decided transparently and in an inclusive manner. It must be explained at which level which decision is made and on what basis.

Background to the survey on corona restrictions

This policy paper is based on a large-scale survey program for which 4,800 participants in Germany were asked about their attitudes to the corona restrictions. The publication is part of the publication series with the Cluster of Excellence „The Politics of Inequality“ at the University of Konstanz with which Das Progressive Zentrum cooperates. The cluster focuses on the connection between the corona crisis and inequality (More information on the survey program, methodology and data basis).

About the authors

Prof. Dr. Claudia Diehl is a Professor of Microsociology at the University of Konstanz and co-speaker of the Cluster of Excellence “The Politics of Inequality”. Her research focuses on the integration processes of immigrants, international migration, xenophobia, and discrimination. She is a member of the Commission of Experts on Economic Issues of the Future, which was convened by French President Emmanuel Macron in June 2020; she is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Family Issues at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth and of the Council of Experts of German Foundations for Integration and Migration.

Dr. Felix Wolter is a research associate of Claudia Diehl’s working group for microsociology and a member of the Cluster of Excellence “The Politics of Inequality”. His research interests include quantitative methods of empirical social research, social inequality, social structure, and labor market sociology.







This policy paper was published by the Cluster of Excellence “The Politics of Inequality” of the University of Konstanz in cooperation with Das Progressive Zentrum.

Claudia Diehl

Felix Wolter

published on

31 August 2020