Research Finds Increased Trust in Government and Science Amid Pandemic

Image: Ann Kiernan for The Washington Post

New Curtin University research has found a dramatic increase in people’s trust in government in Australia and New Zealand as a result of the COVID pandemic.

Published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration, the team surveyed people in Australia and New Zealand in July 2020 and found confidence in public health scientists to also be high and for this trust to be manifested in higher usage of government COVID phone apps.

Lead researcher Professor Shaun Goldfinch, said the management of the pandemic by authorities led to a dramatic increase in trust in government.

“Using an online panel, we surveyed a representative sample of 500 people each in Australia and New Zealand, several months into the COVID pandemic and found a high level of confidence, with around 80 percent of respondents agreeing government was generally trustworthy,” Goldfinch said.

“Around three quarters of those surveyed agreed management of the pandemic had increased their trust in government and more than 85 percent of respondents had confidence that public health scientists worked in the public interest.

“We also found this trust and confidence strongly predicted COVID phone app use, largely through convincing people that the app was beneficial.”

Goldfinch said confidence in government had increased in Australia and New Zealand from a similar study in 2009, with 80 percent and 83 percent, respectively, agreeing government is generally trustworthy, compared to 49 percent and 53 percent in the earlier study.

“This rise is due in part to positive perceptions of the management of the pandemic, with around three quarters of respondents agreeing the way the crisis was handled had increased their trust in government,” Goldfinch said.

“Because the research was conducted during a global pandemic, the findings may not signal a long term change in trust in government, which may return to previous levels when, and if, the crisis passes.

“Regardless, trust in government could be viewed as a ‘reservoir’ that can be drawn upon when needed so that citizens are willing to take what might be unusual and unprecedented actions when their trust is high, including the use of government apps. As such, trust remains key to effective government, particularly during crises.”

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