Who Do You Trust? The Consequences of Political and Social Trust for Public Responsiveness to COVID-19 Orders

28 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2020 Last revised: 1 Jun 2020

Date Written: April 19, 2020


Non-uniform compliance with public policy by citizens can undermine the effectiveness of government, particularly during crises. Mitigation policies intended to combat the novel coronavirus offer a real-world measure of citizen compliance, allowing us to examine the causes of asymmetrical responsiveness. Analyzing county-level cellphone data, we leverage staggered roll-out to estimate the causal effect of stay-at-home orders on mobility using a difference-in-differences strategy. We find movement is significantly curtailed, and examination of descriptive heterogeneous effects suggests the key role that political and social trust play in producing irregular compliance. Focusing on the components that we argue facilitate trust in government, i.e., one's level of trust in experts, bureaucrats, and politicians who craft and enact policy, we find that Republican-leaning counties comply less than Democratic-leaning ones. However, this partisan compliance gap shrinks when directives are given by Republican leaders, suggesting citizens are more trusting of co-partisan politicians. Furthermore, we find that higher levels of social trust increase compliance; yet, these gains attenuate or intensify depending upon community-level partisan sentiments. Our study demonstrates the influence of political and social trust on citizen welfare, particularly in light of political polarization, and highlights how trust will impact successful containment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Political Economy, Partisanship, Polarization, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Trust in Government, Social Capital, Public Policy, Political Trust, Social Trust, Compliance, Norms

JEL Classification: P1, P4, Z18, D7

Suggested Citation

Goldstein, Daniel A. N. and Wiedemann, Johannes, Who Do You Trust? The Consequences of Political and Social Trust for Public Responsiveness to COVID-19 Orders (April 19, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3580547 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3580547

Daniel A. N. Goldstein (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

United States

University of Oslo ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavs plass
Oslo, N-0317

Johannes Wiedemann

Yale University ( email )

United States

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