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Declining trust in government: the low-trust society

The Netherlands in September 2021 could be characterised as a low-trust society. Trust in the government has declined significantly in the past one-and-a-half years: from almost 70 percent in April 2020 to less than 30 percent in September 2021. There has also been a slight decrease in trust between people. These are the results of research by Erasmus University Rotterdam in collaboration with Leiden University.

People mainly trust their family and friends, and people with whom they can have a personal relationship, like their doctor. Mistrust of the government is an important reason for people not to get vaccinated. There is also a link between the use of social media as a primary source of information and a low level of trust in the government and a low willingness to get vaccinated. 

The research entitled De laag-vertrouwensamenleving: de maatschappelijke impact van COVID-19 in Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam & Nederland was led by Professor Godfried Engbersen from Erasmus University Rotterdam in collaboration with Professor Jet Bussemaker from Leiden University, Risbo, Dr André Krouwel from VU Amsterdam, Dr Katja Rusinovic from The Hague University of Applied Sciences and the municipalities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. The data was collected by Kieskompas in September. Previous data collections for the research were in April, July and November 2020 and March 2021. 

Declining trust, particularly in national government

Trust in national and local government has declined drastically in recent months: only three in ten respondents have (much) trust in the national government. The pronounced decline in the period of March-September 2021 is not directly associated with growing criticism of the government’s covid policy. A considerable group is still critical of this policy, but in comparison with the data collected in March 2021, the latest data shows this group has decreased in size. The drop in trust may be linked to political developments that are not related to the government’s covid policy, including the long government formation talks and the slow and inadequate response to the child benefits scandal.  

Trust in local government has also declined, but less so than in national government. Trust in health organisations such as the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the Municipal Public Health Service (GGD) also declined from April 2020 to March 2021. It has increased somewhat since then, but is still markedly lower than at the start of the pandemic. Trust in the GGD and the RIVM is higher in Amsterdam than in Rotterdam. Trust in people in general has declined somewhat. Trust in family and friends remains high and relatively stable. Trust in neighbours and GPs is particularly high, but a slight decrease can also be seen here. 

Additional research by Dr Andre Krouwel shows that in particular people with a lower level of education, the elderly, non-voters and PVV and FvD voters have little trust in the government. 

Not prepared to be vaccinated and limited influence of experts

Nationally, 12 percent of the respondents are not prepared to be vaccinated, or are unsure about this. The main reasons not to be vaccinated are: trust in their own body/immune system (around 38 percent); possible side-effects (around 16 percent) and a lack of trust in the government and organisations concerned (around 23 percent). People who have been vaccinated were convinced by experts from the RIVM and GGD, whereas those who haven’t believe that the chance of them still becoming convinced is very small indeed. If they are, this is more likely to be by their GP, family members or friends than by experts. 

The majority believes the coronavirus pass to be a good idea for events, restaurants and cafés. A considerable group does not agree with the pass. People who aren’t vaccinated are often against the coronavirus pass, but so too some people who have been vaccinated. In total over a third of the research population (36 percent) is against the coronavirus pass.

Social media use and low trust in government

People whose main source of information about the virus is social media have less trust in the government and other institutions and are less likely to be vaccinated nor do they plan to get vaccinated.  

Less anxious about job losses and bankruptcy 

In September 2021 fewer people were worried about the effects of COVID-19 on their job, business and income than in previous data collection moments. People are much less worried about losing their job than they were. These worries have declined significantly in Amsterdam and particularly in Rotterdam. At the same time fewer respondents are worried about losing their income and fewer entrepreneurs are worried that their business won’t survive the crisis.

Threat of virus decreasing

The perceived threat of the virus was smaller in September 2021 than every previous data collection moment. Fewer people see COVID-19 as a threat for themselves, their friends and their family. The number of respondents who are avoiding health care is also significantly lower than it was. In the three big cities healthcare avoidance is comparable with the national level. Feelings of fear and anxiety as a result of the virus and the measures taken have also decreased. In March 2021 almost half of the respondents said that the felt that they had nothing to look forward to. That has now dropped to a quarter, and a much larger proportion of the respondents are more positive about the future.

Funding from the municipalities and a grant from the ZonMw COVID-19 research programme made the research possible.

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