UN-COVID Research

Welcome to the research page for the United Nations & COVID-19 public opinion research project!

June 29, 2020 | Mark O'Neill | New York


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe, claiming over 470,000 lives as of June 29 and contributing to widescale social, political, and economic instability. Billions of people are forced to live under lockdown, threatening economic prosperity, heightening domestic tensions, and exacerbating telecommunication inequalities. For those in greater developed areas, SARS-CoV-2 is more than a virus, for it is also a near-constant stream of news and fake news, creating an infodemic felt around the world.

Research Project

Leading one of the largest public health communication campaigns in modern history, the United Nations is tasked with protecting international peace, security, and development during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, reaching the right audiences in the right ways can mean the difference between life or death. With such a task at hand, strategic insights are needed into how the general public perceives risk, media, and reputation. Thus, a quantitative, cross-sectional survey was conducted with 186 respondents recruited via social media in April 2020. Although the sample reached is small and not representative of the general public, valuable insights can be drawn toward future policy and research.


Overall, risk perception is high, especially for social impacts. The sample demonstrates a disproportionate sense of security as most respondents feel more informed than the average person. Media consumption is also up across the board, with social media being consulted as a key information source. Engagement with overwhelmingly negative content is down, and reports of fake news are on the rise. As a result, the need for broader information that focuses on wider impacts rather than individual stories is in demand. Thankfully, the UN has a decent reputation that can support their communication activities, with blind faith from the public bridging a gap between low awareness and high respect. Based on these insights, the United Nations is poised to continue messaging in a trustworthy and credible way while taking into account suggestions from social and behavioural science.


This study joins emergent health communication research into public opinion during the COVID-19 pandemic. A unique focus on the interconnectedness of risk, media, and reputation makes the research instrument worthy of replication in other contexts and over time.

Suggested Citation

O’Neill, M. (2020). United Nations & COVID-19 Public Opinion Poll: Risk, Media, & Reputation. [Whitepaper]. University Of Amsterdam. https://imarkoneill.com/un-covid/

This research received no financial support. There are no conflicts of interest to declare. Note that these self-published results have not been subjected to a formal peer-review process, although several editors, reviewers, and advisors contributed to the project.