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Written by Nathalie De Marcellis-Warin, Professor at Polytechnique Montréal, CEO, researcher and Fellow CIRANO, and by Ingrid Peignier, Senior director of Partnerships and Research Development and Project Director (in collaboration with Thomas Gleize et Juliette Lhuisset) The CIRANO 2021 Barometer - Risk Perception in Quebec provides an update on Quebecers' concerns and perceptions of 54 societal issues, such as access to health services and education, climate change, vaccination, data sharing, the public debt, the rising cost of living, real estate and major energy projects.
As in 2020, the year 2021 was obviously marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and it's in this context that the collection of this edition of the CIRANO Barometer took place in August 2021. Although the CIRANO Barometer covers much broader issues than those directly related to the pandemic, we have nevertheless kept in mind, throughout our analyses, the human and economic consequences of this crisis, which of course influence Quebecers' perceptions. Unfortunately, we remain convinced that COVID-19 is not the last pandemic that humanity will have to face and it is therefore essential to better understand perceptions in a crisis context in order to be better prepared. As the previous Barometer was published in 2018, it seems particularly relevant to study possible changes in concerns.
The CIRANO 2021 Barometer is extremely dense in terms of information of all kinds and paints an evocative picture of Quebecers' priorities. Here are the most striking facts.
The top 3 personal concerns have remained the same since 2011, but environmental risks and risks related to energy resources have increased compared to 2018
The three greatest personal concern categories of risks follow the same ranking since 2011:
1. Risks related to the health care system (41% of Quebecers chose this category in their top two categories of concern, unchanged from 2018)
2. Economic and financial risks (39% of Quebecers chose this category in their top two categories of concern, 41% in 2018 but the difference is not significant)
3. Environmental and energy resource risks (33% of Quebecers chose this category in their top two concerns, compared to only 26% in 2018)
In 2021, Quebecers are even more concerned about environmental issues. Other results from the Barometer confirm this: 69% consider climate change to be "a great or very great risk" to our society versus 52% in 2018 (a significant 17-point increase). with regard to energy projects, 63% of Quebecers are opposed to shale gas exploration and only 12% perceive this type of project as "beneficial or very beneficial" for the Quebec economy (proportions similar to 2018). At the same time, opposition has increased for oil exploration compared to 2018: 58% are opposed (versus 48% in 2018) and 19% see benefits (25% in 2018). The level of perceived risk for both issues is fairly stable since 2018.
While exploration for fossil fuels is considered risky and trust in the government to manage these projects is very low, Quebecers are overall more favorable to projects involving renewable energy. Thus, 79% of the population is favorable or somewhat favorable to the construction of wind farms (74% in 2018) and 82% is favorable to individual electricity production from solar or wind sources (78 % in 2018). When it comes to energy production from wind turbines or solar panels, perceived levels of risk are quite low and trust in the government to manage these issues is quite high.
We see that Quebecers are very consistent in their responses: for all the issues for which they responded that they are opposed, the level of perceived risk was higher than the level of perceived benefit, and conversely, for all the issues for which they are in favour, the level of perceived benefit is higher than the level of risk. It is also clear that although it is the level of perceived risk, the level of perceived benefits and the confidence in management that explain social acceptability, it's the level of perceived benefits that has the greatest explanatory influence.
An awareness of public health risks
As in the last two editions of the CIRANO Barometer, when Quebecers are asked to indicate the two categories of risks that are of greatest concern to Quebec among the ten studied, two share the lead: risks related to the health system (41% and 35% in 2018) and environmental and energy resource risks (41%, compared to 29% in 2018). Risks related to public health rise to 3rd place among Quebecers' concerns (27% vs. 17% in 2018) and effectively demote risks related to transportation infrastructure, which had been in the Top 3 since 2011, to 6th place (13% vs. 26% in 2018). This change is entirely consistent with the pandemic context in which the survey was conducted. In a crisis situation, it is reasonable to think that the focus is on the main risk and that other issues, considered more trivial and incidental in comparison, are obscured.
All in all, the pandemic seems to have raised awareness of public health risks: looking specifically at the issues related to it, perceived risks for epidemics have increased in 2021 (54% of respondents perceive a great or very great risk, compared to 27% in 2018) as perceived risks for vaccination (32%, up from 14% in 2018). However, COVID-19 didn't completely overshadow other public health issues in Quebec. Indeed, health problems related to smoking and obesity, or mental and cognitive illnesses, are perceived as very risky by Quebecers (similar levels to 2018).
However, this awareness of public health risks is accompanied by a high level of confidence in the government to manage these issues, which has increased significantly since 2018. Indeed, 68% of Quebecers have some or complete confidence in the government to manage vaccination, the highest proportion among the 54 issues surveyed and up from 2018 (44%). Confidence in the management of epidemics is also high and growing rapidly (45% of Quebecers have some or complete confidence in the government to manage this issue, compared to 20% in 2018). As for vaccination more specifically, Quebecers have become aware of the risks but also of the collective benefits it can bring. Thus, 78% of Quebecers consider vaccination to be somewhat or completely beneficial, compared to 58% in 2018, and 87% of the population are very or somewhat in favor of it (up from 75% in 2018).
While emergency room overcrowding still remains the perceived issue with the highest level of risk in 2021, the top three perceived issues with the highest risk differ from previous editions with the presence of climate change and access to affordable housing.
Although down slightly from 2018, the proportion of Quebecers who perceive hospital emergency room overcrowding as a great or very great risk is the highest among the 54 issues surveyed (77% in 2021 vs. 79% in 2018 - furthermore, emergency room overcrowding and access to health care services also enjoy a significant increase in trust in the government (58% of Quebecers don't trust the government at all or don't really trust it to manage overcrowding in emergency rooms vs. 72% in 2018 and 51% don't trust it at all or don't really trust it to manage access to health care services vs. 68% in 2018). The Top 3 issues perceived as the most risky are rounded out by climate change in second place (69% of Quebecers perceive a great or very great risk, a substantial increase compared to 52% in 2018) and access to affordable housing in third place (69%, a new issue added in this 2021 edition).
Futhermore access to affordable housing, we see that, as in previous editions of the Barometer, many socio-economic issues are perceived by Quebecers as relatively high risk: Another new housing-related issue, rising real estate prices (67% of Quebecers consider this issue a great or very great risk [5th out of 54]), rising cost of living and interest rates (65 %, in 8th place), budget deficits and public debt (62 %, in 7th place), and the impact of the pandemic on the economy (62 %, in 9th place).
Confidence in government to manage all issues is up
The proportions of Quebecers who are very or somewhat confident in the government in 2021 are all higher than the proportions in 2018 for the 47 issues common to both surveys. We can therefore see that despite the pandemic and the impact it has and continues to have on society, Quebecers now have greater confidence in their government to manage all the issues, and more particularly those directly related to the pandemic and public health.
Quebecers are increasingly informed by reliable sources of information
Finally, one of the conclusions of the 2018 edition of the CIRANO Barometer was that some perceptions reflected reality while others were far from it and that this dissonance between perception and reality could sometimes have serious consequences. This finding was accompanied by a recommendation to all stakeholders in the projects or issues under study, on the importance of communicating the right messages to the population, always based on evidence. Some of the results suggest that a step in the right direction has been taken in this regard. Indeed, it is encouraging to note that the population is more informed in 2021 than in 2018 from reliable sources of information: independent experts and provincial and federal governments. 15% of Quebecers will use governments a lot or very much to get information in 2021, compared to 7% in 2018.
This survey was conducted between August 5 and 15, 2021 among 1003 respondents representative of the Quebec population. A case study on climate change has already been published in CIRANO's Perspectives Series on the occasion of COP26.