Measuring Trust and its Variance during the COVID-19 Pandemic Using Serial Surveys and Quantitative Text Analysis

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Social and Political Science


We propose an ambitious cross-national and inter-disciplinary study to understand the critical role that trust plays in public support and compliance with governmental COVID-19 policies. Policy success depends on the public's buy-in, which depends on trust. Trust is a multidimensional concept - thematically including competence, benevolence, fairness, openness, credibility, confidence, reliability and integrity (Gefen, 2002) - with important differing points of emphasis across academic fields. Importantly, our proposed research extends the state of the art by drawing out differences in what a lack of trust means, focusing in particular on key differences between mistrust and distrust (Jennings et al. 2021). In order to not only better understand pandemic management, but also to speed up recovery through policy compliance, and additionally to improve policy efficiency post-COVID-19, we need to understand trust. Building on over fifty years of social science literature on components of trust in general and political trust more specifically (e.g. Levi and Stoker 2000), we will also investigate how multiple factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, class, education, location, occupation, migration status, lived COVID-19 experience, media usage, and political stance affect the various dimensions of trust towards governmental COVID-19 responses and measures, using surveys and social media data over 24 months.

Explaining the variance in people's trust and how trust differs between and within population groups, our research will help identify the less compliant groups, where more understanding and refined communications are required. Our research findings will provide clear explanations of how people's distrust of political institutions or medical authorities reduces their willingness to comply with different policy measures. Mistrust leads to careful scrutiny of information, in terms of how it is presented, and who presents the information (Devine et al. 2020; Jennings et al. 2021). It also leads itself to more rapid attitudinal change towards government COVID-19 policies as citizens receive and use new information. Extending the existing work on COVID-19 and trust, our project will provide further explanation on how the various dimensions of trust mentioned above combine to explain people's willingness or refusal to comply with any specific policy response. By tracking and measuring people's trust and willingness to comply using longitudinal surveys, this project will provide a detailed account of how trust varies over time. By conducting targeted media content analysis, it will allow some of the research questions to be answered directly using secondary data and provide a baseline for comparison, offering an in-depth exploration to identify specific reasons leading to distrust. Together, this mixed method approach aids data triangulation and validates the research findings, providing a more in-depth understanding regarding the variance of trust in Japan and the UK.

By incorporating multiple trust dimensions, multiple trust senders (national, local government institutions and health authorities), as well as multiple outcome variables, our research findings will help identify the separate ways that mistrust and distrust affect (non)compliance. Our project utilises the combined expertise of academics based in both Japan and the UK to validly measure trust in the differing cultural contexts of Japan (collective) and UK (individualistic) and demonstrate the specific ways in which trust is associated with policy compliance and government support, which is critical knowledge in helping both the Japanese and British governments effectively implement COVID-19 exit strategies and build resilient and sustainable post-pandemic societies.


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