Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyJune 27, 2020

We asked New Zealanders what the world will look like post-Covid-19

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

New polling shows New Zealanders expect to see the environment take a back seat to economic recovery, little change in fortune for low-paid essential workers, and a long wait for tourism to return to pre-Covid 19 levels, writes Stephen Mills of UMR Research.

There’s been a lot of speculation about what changes the Covid-19 pandemic will bring to the world. If history is any guide to the accuracy of similar predictions, most of the theorising will be hopelessly wrong.

Following the GFC, the political left hoped, even assumed, that the overwhelming evidence of the amorality, if not immorality, of the elite financial business sector would push voters at least modestly towards more left-wing positions.

Instead, much of the Western world, with a few obvious exceptions such as New Zealand, has moved to the populist right. Will Covid lead to greater international cooperation to solve problems, such as pandemics, climate change and immigration, that obviously cross borders, or will the trend towards more aggressively nationalist politics continue?

Some hope that a fairer and more equal economy can be built from the Covid shock. They hope that the evidence that massive government responses have been necessary to save lives and economies will make voters more appreciative of the role of government. 

Some think there could be more support to improve conditions for low-paid essential workers, such as rest home staff and cleaners, who continued to work through lockdown at considerable risk to their wellbeing, while only earning low wages.

The adoption of wage subsidies and increased benefit payments in many countries have also, at least to a degree, reopened debates on the merits of a UBI.

Some on the right are looking to free business from regulatory constraints to enable them to drive economic recovery.

There were musings that the evidence of environmental recovery and the dominance of cyclists and pedestrians on roads under tight lockdowns would increase support for a cleaner environment. 

This was not the case following the GFC, when public support for measures to reduce climate change faded in tough times. Prior to the GFC, right-wing parties had moved to at least pay lip service to climate change. After the 2008 crash, they quickly backed away.

There’s also been speculation about whether New Zealand will be better placed in a post-Covid world, possibly benefiting from higher demand for our food and more tourists attracted to our image as a largely Covid-free destination.

Asked what they expected to happen in a post-Covid world, across a range of issues, New Zealanders surveyed by UMR Research in April and May seemed to expect a move to the left but were not convinced about Aotearoa’s economic prospects. They were also not of the opinion that the environmental movement would be strengthened.

On the political front, given a choice, 78% thought “Western governments will be much more involved in planning economies to ensure, for instance, the existence of a national airline and local supply of health equipment and pharmaceuticals”; while 22% thought “Western economies will stay open with governments leaving supply of almost all goods to private businesses”. There was little difference by voting intention on this expectation.

The empty main street of Clyde. (Photo: George Driver)

Fifty-seven percent thought “the large number of New Zealanders having experience of the wage subsidy will increase support for a universal basic income, which is a payment made to all adult New Zealanders sufficient to cover the basics”; 35% thought “a universal basic income will still be seen as too expensive and reducing the incentive to work”.

A UBI has support from elements of both the right and left in politics but has been associated more with Labour in New Zealand. Labour voters (65%) were more likely to expect support for the UBI to increase than National voters (43%). Renters (63%) were also more likely to expect support to increase than those who own freehold homes (48%).

On taxation and creating a more equal society, a majority expected no change.

Forty-four percent went for the option that “the massive amount of taxpayer money that has been spent to rescue New Zealand businesses and help New Zealanders on high incomes will soften attitudes towards taxes such as wealth and capital gains taxes in order to reduce inequality”; 56% thought “there would still be overwhelming opposition to capital gains and wealth taxes”. Fifty-two percent of Labour voters thought there would be more support for a CGT and wealth taxes (despite it being ruled out by the prime minister), compared to 30% of National voters.

There was not much hope held for those in low-paid but essential pandemic occupations. Only 31% thought “people working in low-status and low-wage occupations such as cleaning and home care, who worked right through the outbreak, will get more credit and higher pay”; 69% thought “not much will change for them”.

On the international political front, more expected countries to turn inward. Forty-three percent thought “there will be a big lift in international cooperation to stop viruses spreading”; 57% thought “countries will become more nationalist and put their own needs first”.

When it came to the outlook for the New Zealand economy, there was some hope for food but not so much for tourism. 

Fifty-four percent went for the option that “there will be strong export demand for New Zealand food” and 46% for the option that “most of the world will retreat behind high tariff barriers and international trade will take a long time to recover”. Older New Zealanders were more positive on this count than younger New Zealanders.

Only 28% thought “there will, when borders reopen, be a boom in tourism to New Zealand”; 72% thought “it will be many years before international tourism to New Zealand returns to pre-Covid 19 levels”.

There’s not much hope when it comes to the environment either. Thirty-eight percent thought “people all around the world have seen how quickly water and air quality improved while economies slowed and will therefore want to maintain that cleaner environment”; while 62% believed “people want economies to boom again and will not worry too much about the environmental consequences”.

To finish on a positive note, most New Zealanders expected we would maintain that community spirit evident during the neighbourly walks of lockdown. Sixty-five percent thought “we will be more community minded and look out for people we don’t know”; while only 35% took the opposite view that “we will be more suspicious and intolerant of others in our community”. 

We asked: “Looking ahead, when the Covid-19 outbreak is over, which of the following options do you think is more likely?”

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