Changes in political trust in Britain during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020: integrated public opinion evidence and implications

Davies et al, Humanities & Social Sciences Communications (December 2021)

In this paper, we document changes in political trust in the UK throughout 2020 so as to consider wider implications for the ongoing handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. We analysed data from 18 survey organisations with measures on political trust (general, leadership, and COVID-19-related) spanning the period December 2019–October 2020. We examined the percentage of trust and distrust across time, identifying where significant changes coincide with national events. Levels of political trust were low following the 2019 UK General Election. They rose at the onset of UK lockdown imposed in March 2020 but showed persistent gradual decline throughout the remainder of the year, falling to pre-COVID levels by October 2020. Inability to sustain the elevated political trust achieved at the onset of the pandemic is likely to have made the management of public confidence and behaviour increasingly challenging, pointing to the need for strategies to sustain trust levels when handling future crises.