MONTREAL -- The COVID-19 pandemic has united Canadians more than any other event in decades, according to a new study by McGill University and University of Toronto researchers. 

The study found that among Canadians, there is cross-partisan consensus on the threat the virus poses and measures that need to be taken to battle it. The study also found that when there isn’t a consensus – which is the case in the United States – compliance with physical distancing guidelines is undermined, which poses an obvious threat. 

The researchers looked at data from the social media accounts of MPs, Google search trends, and opinion surveys on the public to conduct their study. 

“We know that public opinion tends to become polarized on highly salient issues, except when political leaders are in consensus,” said co-author Aengus Bridgman in a press release on Monday. Bridgman is a PhD candidate in political science at McGill. “In the United States, there appears to be political and public polarization on the severity of the pandemic.” 

In Canada, MPs have not been downplaying the severity of the virus on social media, the researchers found. Through a survey of 2,500 people, they also noticed that Canadians of all political beliefs feel the same about the severity of the virus. Canadians also share similar feelings towards isolation measures. 

Where opinions differ is in terms of who’s to blame for the outbreak in the country. Conservative respondents are more likely to hold Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responsible – a third of them blamed him, compared to just 15 per cent of liberals. Just under 50 per cent of conservatives (47 per cent), however, blame the Chinese government instead. 

Researchers said in order for the COVID-19 pandemic to be tackled effectively, public consensus is necessary. 

“Avoiding polarization is essential for an effective societal response to the pandemic,” said co-author Taylor Owen, an associate professor at the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill. 

The survey portion of the study was conducted from March 25 to March 31.