Almost alone at home for months, but still crowded on the bus or train? Busy inner-city streets and a ban on walking further away in the forest in the snow? And then the back and forth in the discussion about masks as corona protection. The fact that the past few months have been full of contradictions makes further tightening a stress test. The figures of the federal and state governments – the 15-kilometer rule and limit values for new infections – are also questioned by some.
When politics intervenes so long and so deeply in the everyday life of its citizens, the pressure to explain increases. During these times, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) appears much more often than usual at the Berlin Federal Press Conference, where many political reporters are members. Also because many other public appointments have to be canceled, as Merkel explained in her most recent appearance on Thursday. “I think there is a very great need to know from me as Federal Chancellor what guides me and what guides us in our measures,” she said.
More than half of the citizens are against restricting local transport
Jürgen Maes, who deals with social and conflict psychology at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich, advises explaining the measures well and thoroughly so that as many people as possible can understand and understand them. A restriction to prohibitions and the threat of consequences and punishments could not win the conviction of the people. “As soon as there is an opportunity to violate the measures unnoticed and without consequences, those who are purely extrinsically motivated will take advantage of this opportunity,” he warns. So-called lateral thinkers are difficult to reach anyway.
As in any dispute, the same applies here: the critics often express themselves louder than the supporters. The approval for the measures to contain the virus has been stable and relatively high for months. Nonetheless, the question of individual requirements gives a more differentiated picture. In a survey carried out by the YouGov opinion research institute on behalf of “dpa”, 70 percent were in favor of compulsory home office work for companies, but only 49 percent were in favor of restricting or even stopping local public transport.
Maes warns that the fact that surveys regularly show up to 80 percent acceptance among the population should not lead to overly optimism – and points out the difference between attitude and behavior. “Research has shown time and again that general attitudes can only explain specific behavior very slightly,” he says.
There is also a risk of defiance. “The communication of the resolutions and the wording used – we have to take harder, stronger, stricter action – reminds some people of punitive parents or other authorities,” says the researcher. There is a threat of “reactance”. “This is how psychologists call a motivation that is in some respects similar to childish defiance and that can lead to defending oneself against the perceived restriction of freedom, to show the now forbidden behavior even more, to look for behavior as similar as possible as an alternative and that to find prohibited behavior even more important and significant than before, ”explains Maes. Political decision-makers would do well to keep an eye on all these influences on the acceptance and compliance with measures when formulating and communicating their decisions.
Communication is important so that citizens can understand the measures
In the Corona crisis, the state interferes in areas of life in which it has no other place. Whether two or three people sit together on a park bench. The question of how many customers are allowed to be in the pharmacy at the same time. All of this is none of the business of the authorities in normal times. Those responsible at the federal, state and local levels agree: regulations alone are not enough to get the pandemic under control. The citizens must also be able to understand the usefulness of the individual measures. But that’s not always the case. The more important is the question of who is sending which messages on which channel.
Posts in social media, a dedicated channel in the Telegram messenger service, advertisements on electronic advertising spaces and posters, infographics, explanatory videos, their own information websites and leaflets – the federal government and in particular the Ministry of Health are trying to convey the corona policy beyond press conferences and interviews . The budget for the Federal Press Office in the current budget year is 18.2 million euros – this is also used to finance communication in the pandemic.
“There is no one, unchangeable, fixed communication concept in the pandemic,” explains a spokesman for the Federal Press Office. In view of the constantly changing situation, this is not expedient. “Now, in January 2021, the focus is on completely different facets of communication – the start of the vaccination, the renewed tightening of contact restrictions – than, for example, in summer 2020.” The Federal Press Office is responsible for the public relations work of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the federal government as a whole. The individual ministries also have their own press departments.
The focus is in particular on new federal and state resolutions to contain the virus, explains the Federal Press Office, which after such meetings endeavors to present the sometimes complex formulations in clear graphics. These are then passed on to the press offices of the federal states.
Ministry of Health invests 25 million euros in vaccination campaign
The Federal Ministry of Health, the Robert Koch Institute and the Federal Center for Health Education are promoting vaccinations against the coronavirus with their own campaign. The Berlin agency Scholz & Friends designed the 25 million euro campaign under the motto “Germany is rolling up its # sleeves”. NewsABC.net had already reported exclusively on such plans in mid-December.
According to the ministry, the majority of more than twelve million euros is accounted for by analog and digital posters. According to its own information, the Ministry of Health had additional budget funds of around 90 million euros available for information on the coronavirus in the 2020 budget.
“If everyone comes up with a different idea, it unsettles the citizens,” warns rhetoric expert Jörg Abromeit from the speech academy in Bonn. He thinks it would be better if there was a specific person or group of credible people who could explain government measures in an easy-to-understand manner and refute misinformation. And: “If you are insecure, it is also more difficult to follow new orders or suggestions.” In addition, the insecurity offers space for diverse conspiracy theories – “we are now seeing that in the debate about vaccination”. In addition, what is considered likely today may be out of date tomorrow, as scientists are also gradually researching the virus better.
From Abromeit’s point of view, communication between the government and citizens was “at least orderly” until the end of September. That is no longer the case. “I explain this to myself by the fact that the election campaign has now started unofficially – even if the gentlemen involved would certainly reject that.” But it is clear that “North Rhine-Westphalia Prime Minister Armin Laschet and Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder are trying to get themselves.” to profile here ”.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the question of whether or not it makes sense to wear mouth and nose protection was hotly debated. Abromeit says: “Of course it would have been more honest, Health Minister Jens Spahn and other politicians would have said in spring 2020:” Yes, masks can protect, but we don’t have enough of them at the moment. “In the situation at the time, that would have created additional uncertainty . By first questioning the effectiveness and then later calling for the wearing of masks, “you have gambled away credibility”.
dpa / chm