Political trust during the Covid-19 pandemic: Rally around the flag or lockdown effects?

How can we explain the rise in diffuse political support during the Covid-19 pandemic? Recent research has argued that the lockdown measures generated political support. In contrast, I argue that the intensity of the pandemic rallied people around political institutions. Collective angst in the face of exponentially rising Covid-19 cases depresses the usual cognitive evaluations of institutions, and leads citizens to rally around existing intuitions as a lifebuoy. Using a representative Dutch household survey conducted over March 2020, I compare the lockdown effect to the dynamic of the pandemic. I find that the lockdown effect is driven by pre-existing time trends. Accounting for nonlinearities in time makes the lockdown effect disappear. In contrast, more flexible modelling techniques reveal a robust effect of Covid-19 infections on political trust. Moreover, I find that standard determinants of political trust – such as economic evaluations and social trust – lose explanatory power as the pandemic spreads. This speaks to an emotionally driven rally effect that pushes cognitive evaluations to the background.
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