16 June 2020
Pandemic could have 'long-lasting effect' on trust in political institutions
The COVID-19 crisis is likely to have a substantial and long-lasting effect on trust in government and political institutions, a new paper has found.
In particular, those who experience an epidemic outbreak in their ‘impressionable years’ (between 18-25) are less likely to have confidence in political institutions and leaders and harbour more negative attitudes towards elections.
The findings were revealed in a new paper, the Political Scar of Epidemics, authored by Dr Cevat Giray Aksoy, Assistant Professor in Economics at King’s College London and Principal Economist at the EBRD; Professor Barry Eichengreen, from the University of California, Berkeley; and Dr Orkun Saka, Assistant Professor in Economics at University of Sussex.
Dr Aksoy, from the Department of Political Economy at King’s, said: “Trust and confidence in government are important for the capacity of a society to organise an effective collective response to an epidemic.”
“Yet there is also the possibility that experiencing an epidemic can negatively affect an individual’s confidence in political institutions and trust in political leaders, with negative implications for this collective capacity.
“We have shown that this negative effect is large and persistent. Its largest and most enduring impact is on the attitudes of individuals who are in their impressionable late-adolescent and early-adult years when an epidemic breaks out.”
Data for the paper was compiled using responses to the 2006-2018 Gallup World Polls and data on incidence of epidemics since 1970. The data included responses from some 750,000 respondents from 142 countries.
The responses revealed that an individual with the highest exposure to an epidemic (relative to zero exposure) is 7.2 percentage points less likely to have confidence in the honesty of elections; 5.1 percentage points less likely to have confidence in the national government; and 6.2 percentage points less likely to approve the performance of the political leader.
The paper found that the negative impact on trust in political institutions and governments was most marked in democracies, with a weaker effect seen in autocracies.
Those aged between 18-25 are described as being in their ‘impressionable years’ – a period of life, psychological studies have suggested, when value systems and opinions are durably formed.
Dr Aksoy added: “The implications of our findings are disturbing. Imagine that more trust in government is important for effective containment, but that failure of containment harms trust in government.
“One can envisage a scenario where low levels of trust allow an epidemic to spread, and where the spread of the epidemic reduces trust in government still further, hindering the ability of the authorities to contain future epidemics and address other social problems.”