Allianz Pulse 2020: The political attitudes of the French, Germans and Italians: grim expectations

September 03 2020

Executive Summary

As the Covid-19 crisis upends our societies, we at Allianz decided to check the pulse in Germany, France and Italy. In July, we interviewed a thousand people in each country and asked them about their views on political priorities, reform needs and aspirations. It was clear to us that a survey so soon after the worst crisis that most of the participants might ever have experienced would not produce pretty results. Nevertheless, the extent of pessimism surprised us.

It was to be expected that the assessment of the current economic situation would be miserable: 81% of the French, 80% of the Italian and 59% of the German respondents consider it ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’. But the outlook for the future is just as bleak, especially in France (82%) and Italy (77%). And nearly half of the German respondents (49%) have little hope for better times ahead. This is also reflected in future consumption behavior: the number of respondents who say that they want to consume less in the future exceeds the number of those who want to consume more many times over. In Italy, the ratio is 52% to 8%, in France 47% to 7% and in Germany 29% to 11%.

This deep pessimism contrasts with the fact that the overwhelming majority of respondents say that they have not been affected by the Covid-19 crisis, at least not in economic terms: 62% in France, 65% in Germany and 57% in Italy. And a total of 60% of all respondents are also satisfied with their government's actions during the crisis. But the relatively successful fight against Covid-19 and the record-fast adjustment to the lockdowns (i.e. home office) is not followed by a spirit of optimism or confidence in possible changes. Instead, the majority of those surveyed seem to have fallen into political apathy.

This also applies to the EU. Despite the agreement on the EU Recovery Fund – which could mark a turning point not only in the joint fight against the pandemic but also in the workings of the EU in general – the vast majority of respondents, 54% in France, 52% in Germany and 61% in Italy, think that Covid-19 will tend to reduce solidarity between EU members.

In general, the skeptical attitude towards the EU has become more entrenched. The EU sceptics are now not only in the majority in France and Italy (net percent-age of 20% and 16%, respectively), but also in Germany: 31% of German respondents have a negative view of the EU, compared to only 27% with a positive image. Last year, the supporters were still ahead with 14 percentage points. It is to be hoped that the picture will turn around again with the implementation of the Recovery Fund. However, this year's Allianz Pulse also casts doubt on this. Only one of the Recovery Fund's two strategic goals – greening and digitalization of the European economy – is shared by the respondents. In both France and Germany, the green transformation is at the top of the list of key policy areas for the EU Commission (Italy #8). The topic of digitalization, on the other hand, is accorded far less importance: In Germany it is ranked 9th among the most important policy areas, while in France and Italy it is only 14th and 15th, respectively.

Based on the experience of the lockdown, one would have expected respondents to be almost enthusiastic about the blessings of digitalization, but this year the answers are almost identical to the previous year, with the national differences already known: Only 20% of French respondents see more benefits in digitalization, compared to 42% in Germany and 45% in Italy. In these two countries, the net percentage of those in favor of digitalization is also clearly higher (26% and 29%, respectively); this is not the case in France, where 23% are against digitalization.

One reason is probably data protection. 37% of French, 42% of German and 28% of Italian respondents are concerned about how their data is handled on the internet. This lack of confidence in data security also has tangible consequences for combating the pandemic. Around one third of respondents in each country – 38% (France), 34% (Germany) and 27% (Italy) – refuse to share personal data via an app to track the path of infection. The lower willingness of younger population groups to actively use such an app – particularly in France and Germany – could be seen as an indication of a lack of solidarity between the generations. Italy scores signifi-cantly better on this point.

The topic of climate protection is given high priority by the respondents. But it is not alone. When asked about the most important social goals, an average of 60% of respondents in the three countries put climate protection in one of the top three places – and 61% put the issue of jobs in the top three. Another question related to climate protection – the willingness to pay more for climate-friendly products – shows that the majority of those surveyed keep a close eye on economic issues. 46% of French and 44% of German respondents say they are not prepared to pay more for climate-friendly products; the proportion of those unwilling to pay is significantly lower among Italian respondents (36%). Again, Italy appears to be the country where respondents are more willing to take on social responsibility.

The respondents are somewhat more open-minded about a carbon tax. A majority of respondents – 43% (France), 44% (Germany) and 48% (Italy) – consider price increases of up to 10% for petrol, for example, to be appropriate. But a good third of those surveyed – 39% (France), 35% (Germany) and 32% (Italy) – also reject price increases and thus the concept of a carbon tax outright.

The issue of climate protection therefore remains a sensitive one even after Covid-19. There is broad agreement among the respondents about its fundamen-tal importance. However, this is not the case with the question of the costs of the ‘green transformation’ and their distribution. Very few participants seem prepared to make deep cuts. Climate policy remains a tightrope walk between what is socially desirable and what is personally acceptable.

Arne Holzhausen
Head of Wealth, Insurance and Trend Research
Patricia Pelayo-Romero
Expert, Insurance
Claudius Willem
Research Assistant