23 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Study investigates NZ reaction to government's strict laws

11:20 am on 23 April 2020

New Zealanders seem to welcome the government's strict Covid-19 rules, and it will be interesting to see if that changes as alert levels drop, a psychology researcher says.

Dr Damian Scarf and his research

Dr Damian Scarf has a background in zoology. His PhD investigated how pigeons plan sequences and put them into action. Photo: Supplied / University of Otago

Otago University psychology lecturer Damian Scarf is leading a team investigating New Zealanders' attitudes towards government authority.

So far about 1000 people have answered their 15-minute questionnaire on lockdown life, which they hope to have collected enough responses for before the move to alert level 3 on Monday night.

Dr Scarf told RNZ's Morning Report the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic had brought about an unusual reaction to different sides of the political spectrum.

"The type of sanctions and type of belief I guess in government is something that's not adhered to as much on the left as it is on the right side of the political spectrum, but it seems in this case - especially Labour supporters and I guess the public in general - really are following the rules and are really strong on wanting to enforce the rules," he said.

"Whenever there is any coverage of people breaking the rules, Facebook lights up with people basically arguing that the police should be tougher and the government should be tougher on rule-breakers."

The move towards more authoritarian measures from a left-leaning government contrasted with the kinds of moves made overseas, he said.

"There's almost this kind of switch where we've got Labour here in New Zealand imposing sanctions and tough laws and then you've got I guess right-wing governments in the US effectively putting in no sanctions so it's almost this kind of reversal of normal political roles."

The researchers hoped to collect data before the move to alert level 3, so they could compare how the lowering of restrictions might affect people's attitudes.

"It'll be interesting to see as the level drops [whether] people's concerns around Covid or their belief in kind of these strict laws goes down with the levels, or because they perceive there to still be a risk they kind of maintain their belief that we should be really strong on lockdown."

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