Trust in government jumps during Covid

A study has found a dramatic increase in trust in government among Australians and New Zealanders during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Professor Shaun Goldfinch

The research, published in the current Australian Journal of Public Administration, says although there’s been a perception that trust in government is falling, Covid-19 appears to have reversed this trend.

Using an online panel, the researchers surveyed 500 people in Australia and NZ during July 2020, using a four-point scale to measure trust in government, public scientists and contact tracing technology.

They reported that trust in government had increased “dramatically”, with around 80 per cent of respondents agreeing government was generally trustworthy.

“This increase is due in part to positive perceptions of the management of the Covid‐19 pandemic, with around three quarters of respondents agreeing management of the pandemic had increased their trust in government,” they write.

“Around three quarters said the way the pandemic was managed had increased their trust in government and over 85 per cent said they had confidence in public health scientists.”

Researchers conducted the same survey in Japan HK and the US, and Australia and NZ came out with the highest levels of trust.

Surprising results

Lead author Professor Shaun Goldfinch, ANZSOG WA Government Chair in Public Administration and Policy, has been tracking trust in government for decades.

“(Covid-19) is certainly a major crisis so it’s good to see how these things change, and how this effects the way governments can respond to crises,” he told Government News.

He admits he was surprised to see such a “huge jump” in trust compared to previous research, though he’s keen to see if it represents a long-term change or simply a crisis response.

“These things are volatile,” he said.

“We’ll track it and see what happens. It might be there’s a change in peoples’ thinking that maybe government isn’t such a bad thing.”

Professor Goldfinch says trust in government was important in convincing the population to use Covid-19 tracing apps, and highlights the importance of trust-building during crises.

“Good government increases trust but trust actually makes government more effective,” he said.

What the survey found:

  • 80 per cent (Aus) and 83per cent (NZ) agreed government was generally trustworthy
  • 72 per cent (Aus) and 78 per cent (NSW) agreed management of the COVID‐19 pandemic had increased trust.
  • 81per cent (Aus) and 77per cent (NZ) agreed management of the pandemic had increased their trust in the health system
  • 85 per cent (Aus) and 87 per cent (NZ) expressed confidence in public health experts
  • 67 per cent (Aus) and 71 per cent (NZ) believed the phone app was in the public interest

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