COVID-19 Questions Submitted by Littvay Selected for Round 10 of European Social Survey

Earlier this year, the European Social Survey (ESS) announced an open call for an additional 10 questions regarding the coronavirus to be fielded in Round 10 of the survey, which will be held in 2020-2021.

CEU is pleased to announce that Levente Littvay, professor in CEU’s Department of Political Science, together with Kostas Gemenis of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, successfully applied to have their module of five questions included in the forthcoming ESS, the academically driven cross-national assessment. Conducted across Europe every two years since 2001, the ESS is considered one of the highest quality surveys in Europe, and inclusion is a marker of considerable achievement.

Littvay and Gemenis selected conspiracy beliefs and government rule compliance as fruitful areas in which to focus their line of inquiry. The first question in their module asks whether or not people would be willing to be vaccinated. This is potentially the most consequential query, as long-term government policies are likely to move towards vaccination as the public debate shifts from social distancing and the use of masks.

The second question focuses on willingness to engage with conspiracy theories surrounding the virus, such as whether or not it was a biological weapon (this excludes people who are open to the idea that the virus was created in a laboratory for medical research, but released accidentally). People inclined to believe the virus is a biological weapon are also more likely to believe other conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, such as those involving 5G mobile networks or microchip implantation by governmental authorities, as already noted in the accepted module. This will also be examined in a separate study by Gemenis.

The third question refers to beliefs in more general conspiracies; the fourth relates to adherence to government countermeasures to suppress the virus; and the fifth question is in relation to trust in scientists.

Littvay and Gemenis’s module joins another selected module on the coronavirus, proposed by a team representing the University of Bamberg, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Mannheim, thus increasing the total number of coronavirus-related questions in Round 10 from 10 to 20. The Scientific Advisory Board of the ESS – who selected the proposals – stated that they “were particularly impressed with the quality of applications, especially considering the call was open for less than four weeks.”

Professor Rory Fitzgerald, the Director of ESS, added “The two successful applications will shed light on how the response to COVID-19 is being assessed by people across Europe.”

As the proposed questions are still provisional, they may be refined further before being fielded in the upcoming round.

Reflecting on the significance of having these questions accepted for the survey and its wider implications, Littvay observed: “While five questions may not sound like much, with the addition of these to the rest of the European Social Survey fielded in 20-30 countries, we can build a research agenda that tests how conspiracy theories undermine government effectiveness both in epidemics, and possibly also in combating climate change. We can also test how much the public response to such catastrophes depends on how much their own countries were affected.”