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People and Pandemics: Studying International Coping and Compliance

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Michigan is leading the project People and Pandemics: Studying International Coping and Compliance to gather cross-national data about policies and responses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers aim to understand what factors affect the extent to which people are complying with social distancing policies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that these policies are having on individuals and communities around the world. The project consists of two main parts: 1) conducting online surveys to elicit individual attitudes and behavior in over a dozen countries; and 2) collecting systematic data on government policies to combat COVID-19 across countries and over time.

Part I: Individual Attitudes & Behavior 

The survey portion of this project explores how—and the extent to which—people are actually practicing and coping with social distancing. It is being distributed in two waves in over a dozen languages and locations, including: Belarus, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Germany, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States. The first wave is being conducted May–June 2020 and the second is planned for August–September 2020. The survey includes questions concerning: (1) knowledge and assessment of government policies on social distancing behavior; (2) the types of social distancing behaviors that people choose and reject; (3) perceived risk and anxiety surrounding COVID-19; (4) the difficulty of social distancing and coping with the COVID-19 crisis for individuals and families; and (5) who or what (e.g., their own governments, other countries, the WHO) people hold responsible for the coronavirus crisis. The survey also includes questions designed to gather socio-demographic information to account for alternative explanations, including: generalized trust, religiosity, access to coronavirus information, and resource barriers.

Part II: Government Policies

The researchers are also utilizing existing sources and databases already under construction to gather systematic data on government policies to combat COVID-19 as well as the enforcement mechanisms for these policies. This will enable them not only to evaluate government policies in comparative perspective, but also to complement and contextualize our cross-national survey. This information will enable the research team to better assess the social, cultural, and financial impact of COVID-19 policies on ordinary citizens and to make recommendations based on these findings.


The results of this data collection effort and analyses will provide unique insight into the key factors that promote adherence to and belief in social distancing in heterogeneous settings, as well as into the factors that promoted compliance. The aim is to provide guidance to governments in planning for future pandemics that require similar measures.

This is one of the first studies that takes a social and behavioral approach to the study of COVID. The project is led by a highly collaborative team of investigators with deep international expertise and a diversity of disciplinary perspectives. Housed at the International Institute, this project involves faculty across multiple units at the University of Michigan: Allen Hicken (political science), Pauline Jones (political science), Ann Chih Lin (public policy), Elizabeth King (public health), Laura Rozek (public health), and Twila Tardif (psychology).

Funding for this research project comes from the International Institute, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Department of Psychology, Ford School of Public Policy, Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, School of Public Health, Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies, and Weiser Center for Europe & Eurasia.