Advanced Symbolics’ AI-based market and public opinion researcher , known as “Polly,” has been examining how Canadians are reacting to events surrounding CoVid-19 since early January of this year. Polly has been analysing Canadians’ reactions to news about unemployment, the economy and other factors to determine which messages achieve results and convince Canadians to stay home. The results are conclusive: honesty is the best policy.

Initially Canadians were anxious but morale was high when the situation was first evolving. This was true for citizens in all provinces and territories. But as the situation evolved, with a continuously moving end-date,  anxiety levels began to rise. This is especially true in Alberta and the Territories where moral levels are down by 10 per cent.

What Polly noticed was that when leaders announced projections for the spread of the disease and accompanying deaths, followed by an urging for people to stay home, the message translated into direct action — more people stayed home right after the announcements.

In contrast, public shaming produced little to no effect: in some provinces, like Quebec, Newfoundland and New Brunswick, the effect was minor, resulting in  bitterness, lower morale and poorer mental health while in BC there was no noticeable effect.Polly notes that being frank and honest about the situation appeals to Canadians more than public naming and shaming.

Polly also observed an increased concern about personal finances between February and March followed by relief among Canadians when the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was announced. Anxiety levels dropped as people saw that banks and the government  were coming to their aid.

Notably, prior to the Easter Holiday, Polly had detected that people had mostly committed to avoiding travel during the holiday weekend. Yet there was a 5 percent uptick in travel reported after the weekend, suggesting a possible loss of resolve as the weekend drew closer. Perhaps not coincidentally,  news that both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer’s family ignored travel bans contributed to the perception among the Canadian public that ‘shelter in place’ directives was being applied and adhered to selectively.

In future, officials will need to carefully craft their messages (and their actions) as the period of confinement drags on. Since Polly works virtually, she remains available to track the effects of messaging on Canadians seven days a week and over any period of time, past, present or future.

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