Scottish social attitudes survey 2021/22: Attitudes to Scotland's handling of the pandemic

Findings from the Scottish Government funded Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2021/22 ‘Attitudes to Scotland’s Handling of the Pandemic’ module.

Chapter 1 – Introduction

This report presents findings from the Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) 2021/22 conducted between the 21st October 2021 and the 27th March 2022. It focuses on the public’s attitudes towards Scotland’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and seeks to address the following key questions:

  • What attitudes do people in Scotland hold towards how well the Scottish Government handled the pandemic and how does this differ between different subgroups?
    • Did they think that decisions made during the pandemic were informed by science?
    • To what extent did they trust the information presented by the Scottish Government and scientists during the pandemic?
    • Did they feel that they were given a voice in policy decisions?
    • Did they feel that the views of ordinary people were taken into account?
  • How do the people in Scotland evaluate Scotland’s readiness to handle another pandemic in the future and to what extent is this likely influenced by people’s political views, social trust and overall trust in the Scottish Government?


Pandemic developments

Survey fieldwork coincided with a period of some variability with regards to the status of the coronavirus pandemic and the measures in place in Scotland during this time. Due to contextual changes in people’s experiences of the pandemic occuring throughout the fieldwork period, responses to the survey may have been affected by when participants took part.

During the fieldwork period, the number of recorded daily positive coronavirus cases in Scotland fluctuated. On the 21st October 2021, 2,555 new positive cases were recorded. This rose to 23,539 in December 2021. The number of positive cases reported per day then fell to between 5,287 and 9,132 in early January and throughout February 2022, rising again in March 2022 to a peak of 15,278 before falling to around 7,800 by the end of the fieldwork period.[2] Between the week begining the 25th October 2021 and the week beginning the 21st March 2022, 2,324 deaths involving Covid-19 were recorded.[3]

In late October 2021, the Delta strain of coronavirus was reported to be dominant in Scotland. Mitigations in place around the start of the fieldwork period included the continued use of face coverings in public places, self-isolation and booking of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests if an individual was symptomatic, tested positive on a lateral flow test, or was a close contact of someone who tested positive. Working from home was encouraged where possible and an enforceable Covid Status Certification system was in place at a number of indoor and outdoor event venues. Face coverings in schools remained in place, while some easing of testing rules related to international travel had been announced.[4]

During the survey fieldwork period, a number of changes took place in the development of the pandemic and the mitigations in place in Scotland at the time.[5]

  • 25th October 2021: Expansion to the vaccination programme with invitations for booster vaccinations issued to those aged 60-69 and those aged 16 and over with underlying health conditions.
  • 15th November 2021: The online vaccination portal was launched for more vulnerable groups to book a booster appointment.
  • 3rd December 2021: Community transmission of Omicron was identified.
  • 11th December 2021: All household contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases were required to self-isolate, irrespective of vaccination status and/or a negative PCR result. Deferral of work Christmas parties was encouraged.
  • 14th December 2021: Indoor household mixing was restricted to a maximum of three households, with lateral flow tests encouraged prior to meeting.
  • 27th December 2021: The one metre physical distancing rule was reintroduced in indoor hospitality and leisure venues. Temporary nightclub closures began.
  • 5th January 2022: Positive lateral flow tests no longer required a follow-up PCR. The self-isolation period was reduced for positive cases who tested negative on days 6 and 7.
  • 17th January 2022: Large outdoor events resumed without physical distancing or limits on numbers.
  • 24th January 2022: One metre distancing in hospitality and leisure settings was lifted. Non-professional indoor contact sports resumed.
  • 21st February 2022: It was announced that a second booster vaccination was to be offered to certain vulnerable groups.
  • 28th February 2022: The requirement for face coverings in schools was lifted and the Covid Status Certification ended.
  • 18th March 2022: All international travel restrictions into Scotland were lifted.

Other measures of public opinion

Regular polling work commissioned by the Scottish Government has shown that public opinion has varied over the fieldwork period. Results from the ‘Public attitudes to coronavirus’ polling found that between March and August 2021, the proportions that agreed they supported the way in which restrictions were handled in Scotland varied between just over half (54%) and two-thirds (66%).[6] Notably, there was a decline in agreement that the restrictions and rules were working, from around six/seven in ten between March and mid-June to around four in ten in both late June and late August 2021.

In late August 2021, around four in ten (41%) felt that the easing of restrictions was ‘about right’ and three in ten (30%) felt that this was ‘a little/much too fast’. Two in ten (21%) felt that the pace was ‘much too slow/a little too slow’.

Support for the handling of the pandemic continued to demonstrate variability as time went on, with a high of 57% in agreement in late November/early December 2021, that decreased slightly to 52%-54% in January 2022.[7] During the same period, around half (52-47%) agreed that they trusted the Scottish Government to decide when to lift/reimpose restrictions, while a general increase in agreement was reported from 30% in early September 2021, to 46% in late November 2021 that the restrictions and rules were working.

A ‘free-text’ open survey undertaken by the Scottish Government in January/February 2022, sought to gather opinion on how people were feeling at that point in the pandemic, including what measures had been easier/harder to follow and what would enable people to feel safer and more supported.[8] The key findings included that a range of emotions were identified, from being angry/critical, fed up and/or worried to accepting of the situation and in some cases, optimistic or even positive. Motivations to stay safe included a desire to protect others. There remained some concern among these respondents, in early 2022, regarding the clarity of the guidance available at that time and in relation to the potentially harmful impacts of pandemic mitigations.

Factors that may influence people’s views on the pandemic

It is important to consider the factors that might have impacted on people’s experiences of COVID-19. These may have influenced how people responded when answering questions about their attitudes towards the handling of the pandemic and Scotland’s preparedness for another pandemic. For example, evidence shows that women were reporting higher levels of anxiety and other mental health conditions than men during the pandemic.[9] There was also evidence during the pandemic in Scotland that women were more likely than men and young people to follow the public health guidelines and were more likely to believe that it is possible to catch coronavirus more than once.[10] There was a higher COVID-19-related death rate for men than women of eighteen percentage points between March 2020 and January 2021, depsite no evidence that men were more likely to catch the virus than women.[11]

Younger adults (those aged 16-24) were more likely to have felt the brunt of rises in unemployment levels and falls in employment levels during the pandemic. The pandemic also exacerbated lower levels of financial security in this age group.[12] In contrast, older people were affected by a far greater risk of death from coronavirus with the associated impact on their lives and the impacts of missed healthcare as a result of the pandemic.[13] Age inevitably impacted on people’s experiences of the restrictions put in place during the pandemic. There is evidence that younger adults were more likely to report that lockdown was making their mental health worse or was leading to lonelinesss.[14] Other research has found that over half of older people and two-thirds of older people who lived alone, which is a growing proportion of the older population, reported that the pandemic had made them lonelier.[15]

Those living in the most deprived areas were more adversely affected by the pandemic which widened educational and health inequalities. This was evident in differences in death rates for coronavirus which were twice as high for those living in the 20% most deprived areas than those living in the 20% least deprived areas.[16]

Another factor that may have influenced people’s views on the pandemic relates to whether they lived in an urban or rural area. Although higher population density did not necessarily correlate to greater COVID-19 transmission rates, the greater population size and interconnectivity associated with urban areas meant that cities were more vulnerable to transmission compared with rural areas.[17] It also meant that the measures implemented to stop the spread of the disease had varying levels of impact on people, such as the need to physically keep apart from others or limit the distance travelled from home. These measures are likely to have had a varying impact on urban and rural dwellers, as well as by socioeconomic status. For example, difficulties in accessing green space in cities.[18] Whilst there is reason to believe that urban areas were generally worsely affected than rural areas due to greater housing density and the strain of a higher volume of positive cases of coronavirus on healthcare services, research suggests that the pandemic also had a negative impact on hospital waiting times in rural and remote trusts.[19] In addition, the pandemic was felt to exacerbate workforce and financial issues in healthcare in remote areas.[20] Research into the impact of the pandemic in rural areas also found there was a heightened sense of loneliness and isolation amongst inhabitants, particularly younger adults, and that they were also affected by issues such as poorer internet connectivity.[21]

Aim of these survey questions

Given the vast amount of information that has been made available to the public throughout the pandemic (from both experts and non-experts), the aim of asking these questions within SSA 2021/22 was to take a more reflective look at public views in Scotland on how policy decisions were communicated and the relationship between data and trust. Of particular interest was to examine how perceptions of this may differ among different groups of people in society. This will inform on-going Scottish Government planning around future pandemic response.

Survey Methodology

SSA has been run annually by the Scottish Centre for Social Research since 1999. This report presents findings from the Scottish Government module of questions concerning the public’s attitudes towards Scotland’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2021/2022 SSA survey was conducted as a telephone survey rather than face-to-face, as a result of coronavirus restrictions in place at the time. A random sample of all those aged 16 and over living anywhere in Scotland (including the Highlands and Islands) was interviewed. Fieldwork began on 21st October 2021 and ceased on 27th March 2022.

Letter invitations to take part were issued to 21,775 addresses, of which 1,349 households opted-in and 1,043 provided at least one interview. A maximum of two adults per household were invited to take part in the survey. A total of 1,130 interviews were achieved in total. Assuming 10% of addresses were ineligible[22], these figures equate to an opt-in rate of 7% and a response rate among opted-in households of 77%. Data were weighted in order to correct for non-response bias and differential selection probabilities due to deliberate over-sampling of rural areas and those living in the most deprived areas, and to ensure that they reflected the age-sex profile of the Scottish population. Technical details about the survey are published in a separate Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2021/22 Attitudes to Scotland’s handling of the pandemic - Technical information at

Question design

A set of questions were developed in order to capture public attitudes towards Scotland’s handling of the pandemic in the three key areas:

  • Trust in:
    • Decisions made by the Scottish Government during the pandemic including the extent to which decisions were informed by science
    • Information presented by the Scottish Government and the scientists
  • Whether the public of Scotland feel that they were given a voice in policy decisions that were made / feel that the views of ordinary people were taken into account
  • How the public evaluate Scotland’s preparedness to handle another pandemic in the future

In order to inform the development of the final set of questions, all of the potential new questions were cognitively tested and/or piloted between July and September 2021. This formed part of wider testing for new questions across the modules of the Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) 2021/22.

The aim of the cognitive testing[23] was to ask a sample of respondents (14 people) a sub-set of the full SSA questions being proposed, including 4 questions on Scotland’s handling of the pandemic. This was followed by asking them a selection of probes to check whether they were interpreting the questions and associated answer options consistently. Adaptations were made to several questions as a result of the cognitive testing.

The survey pilot asked a sufficient sample some of the questions being proposed to establish whether respondents understood the questions in the context of the survey and/or raised any issues with these, and to look at the distribution of answers. The pilot sample consisted of 83 respondents out of a sample of 167 selected randomly from ScotCen panel members living in Scotland.[24] The pilot included 12 questions on views on Scotland’s handling of the pandemic. The final 10 questions were decided upon based on the findings of the pilot. For the final set of questions asked on this module refer to Appendix A of this report.


Most of the statistics presented in this report show the percentage of respondents who selected particular answer options. All percentages cited in this report are based on the weighted data and are rounded to the nearest whole number. A percentage may be quoted in the text for a single category that aggregates two or more of the percentages shown in a table. The percentage for the single category may, because of rounding, differ by one percentage point from the sum of the percentages in the table. Differences between figures shown in the tables are calculated using unrounded figures and may differ from the rounded figures shown in the text.

All differences described in the text (between different groups of people) are statistically significant at the 95% level or above, unless otherwise specified. This means that the probability of having found a difference of at least this size, if there was no actual difference in the population, is 5% or less. The term ‘significant’ is used in this report to refer to statistical significance; this is not intended to imply substantive importance.

Multiple logistic regression analysis was conducted for Chapter 4 of this report to find out which variables were key drivers of opinion regarding how prepared Scotland would be to deal with another pandemic.

Further details of the analysis are included in the separate technical report and full data tables are available as ‘supporting files’ to this publication. The Supplementary Tables to the main report show the results of the multiple logistic regression analysis of factors associated with views on Scotland’s preparedness for another pandemic. The SSA 2021/22 Pandemic Handling Annex Tables provide the full tables for each of these chapters (2-4) cross-tabulated by the background analysis variables.[25] These can be referred to alongside the relevant chapters in this report. Whilst the annex tables follow the order/numbering of the chapters, the annex table numbers do not directly match the tables within the report. The annex tables provide a full breakdown of each of the questions asked in relation to Scotland’s handling of the pandemic cross-tabulated by each of the sub-groups.



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