Relevance study explores serious toll COVID-19, racial strife and political divides are taking

by | Sep 30, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

Start with a generous helping of societal division, add a healthy dose of injustice-fueled unrest, and top it off with a merciless fatal disease running rampant, and you have America in 2020. New research fromstrategic comms firm Brodeur Partners finds that, amid this combo of racial strains, pandemic and political climate, Americans are placing increased emphasis on safety, mental/ physical health, personal finances, and friends and family.

The firm’s new survey points to kindness, honesty and optimism as values most needed to address challenges of 2020 and beyond. But more than half of Americans are finding that reliable, accurate information is elusive.

The survey elicited new data comparable to benchmarks from similar Brodeur surveys in 2012, 2014, and 2016. The differences are surprising, according to Andrea Coville, CEO of Brodeur Partners—and paint a picture of national gloom and uncertainty with an underlying hope that conditions will eventually improve.

According to the wide-ranging survey of 1,250 Americans:

  • There were significant drops in Americans’ self-identification with being “compassionate” (-12 percent) and “happy” (-10 percent).
  • Alternatively, there appeared to be a marked increased focus on financial security, particularly among younger generations.
  • Eight years ago, “caring for friends and family” was the top priority among items tested. Today that number one spot has been replaced by “financial security.”
  • Consistent with other surveys, the Brodeur study showed that concern about financial stability and career growth was most pronounced among Millennials and Gen Z, who appear to be bearing the brunt of the economic impact of the pandemic.
  • And while not tested in earlier studies, the study showed that since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the one factor that has become the most difficult—from a range of things that included staying connected with family and career advancement—is the ability to get information that is reliably accurate. Half of Americans (50 percent) said it has become very or somewhat more difficult over the past six months to find accurate information.

Relevance study explores serious toll COVID-19, racial strife and political divides are taking

The study suggeststhat the pandemic is prompting people to consolidate around ideological “tribes.” Brodeur’s Relevance Model focuses on four different drivers of relevance—reason, values, community, and sensory experience. This recent survey found that since one of the firm’s benchmark studies in 2016, 11 percent more respondents describe themselves as community-minded (e.g., looking to others for advice in decision-making) and 6percentmore respondents identify themselves with others in terms of shared values.

For example, nearly half (42 percent) of respondents say they share political cultural and social values with most of their friends, up significantly from one-quarter (26 percent) in 2016.

“Our data shows that the pandemic is generating considerable social and economic strain, exacerbated by an uncertainty about who to trust and where to go to get reliable information,” said Coville, co-author of a forthcoming book, Creating Relevance in a Time of Uncertainty, building on her seminal book on Relevance.

“Some fear for their personal safety,” she added. “Others feel ignored, deceived or deprived of economic opportunity. People seek waypoints from trusted sources and organizations, which is why companies and organizations have an opportunity to lead the communities they serve.”

Relevance study explores serious toll COVID-19, racial strife and political divides are taking

Silver linings

Although the survey documented a depressed national mood, there’s ample cause for hope: Happiness seems to rise with age. Thirty-one percent of Gen Z respondents rated themselves very happy and fulfilled, a share that grew to 60percentfor the silent generation.

In an attempt to wrest happiness from the gloom, respondents say the following activities have become more important for them:

  • Improving my physical health (73 percent of respondents said that’s become more important given the events of 2020).
  • Spending more time with friends and family (68 percent).
  • Improving my mental health (63 percent).

Making or saving a lot of money was most frequently named as a goal that’s growing in importance among Gen Z (68 percent called it more important given the events of 2020) and Millennial (73 percent) respondents. At the same time, career advancement is getting more difficult particularly for Gen Z (46 percent complained of this difficulty), Millennial (53 percent) and Generation X (46 percent) respondents.

Relevance study explores serious toll COVID-19, racial strife and political divides are taking

The role of the internet and ‘tribes’

The pandemic also appears to have helped fuel a growing civility crisis, something that likely contributes to people’s challenge in finding information and sources that are reliable and can be trusted. With people quarantining and distancing, the internet is a convenient arena for battle over differing opinions and identities. Its divisive power is fueled by two strongly opposing forces: One is the generous belief that “every person’s views should be respected,” held by 74 percent of respondents; the other is “an obligation to speak frankly on issues” (55 percent affirm) and “to correct people when they are wrong” (47 percent).

Couple these opposing forces with platforms that steer internet users to provocative content, and it’s not surprising that nearly 1 in 5 respondents has lost or severed a relationship in the last month because of an online dispute. One in four have been criticized for expressing their views online in that time, and nearly 1 in 4 believe they’ve been “labeled a certain type of person” or experienced discrimination for their views.

Relevance study explores serious toll COVID-19, racial strife and political divides are taking

Buying, giving, politics, ethics and higher ed

The survey also examined some perennial areas of interest for Brodeur clients, including charitable giving, consumer attitudes, politics, corporate social responsibility and higher education.

Respondents were asked about the charities to which they donated the most in the past 12 months. Twenty-five percent named human services/community programs, followed by those supporting health (23 percent), environment/animal welfare (15 percent), education (12 percent), cultural (6 percent) and international causes (4 percent).

Consumers feel far more loyalty around food and drink choices (38 percent) than news sources (15 percent), clothing (12 percent), autos (11 percent), and consumer electronics (10 percent). Since 2014, the share of respondents expressing loyalty/affinity to the Democratic party has fallen by 5 percent while the share of Republican loyalty is up 13 percent.

Thirty-two percent of respondents say they regularly pay more for ethical products and services, up 14 points from 2016. In consumer purchases, environmental and sustainability factors were by far the most important purchase decision factor for Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X respondents. Labor and human rights issues, however, were bigger factors for boomers and the silent generation, and more important to women than men.

Relevance study explores serious toll COVID-19, racial strife and political divides are taking

Career preparation remains the number one factor in college choice, but location is gaining in importance. When respondents imagine advising high school students on choosing a college, school location came in a close second behind academics (29 percent) with 25 percent of respondents calling location the most important college-choice factor, up from 7 percent in 2016. That’s higher than school cost (19 percent), job opportunities provided by the school (13 percent), people students could meet there (7 percent), and the social experience (7 percent).

Download the full report here.

The study was conducted from May 27-28, 2020, using an online survey panel of n=1,250 Americans age 15+. To ensure the sample of respondents was representative of the U.S. populations, we screened respondents based on gender, age/generation, and region.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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