AuthorRadu, Bianca
  1. Introduction

    In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, trust was recognized as a crucial component of the strategies to combat the spread of the virus when little knowledge existed about the infectious disease. On the one hand, citizens need to trust experts and public officials to help them respond to the pandemic. On the other hand, public authorities need to trust citizens that they will comply with the mandatory restrictions in order to control the pandemic situation. Therefore, trust is a key topic that was researched extensively in many countries since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

    In this context, the goal of this article is to analyze the level of trust in different public institutions in Romania and its influence on the compliance with anti-coronavirus measures adopted. In the first part of the article, we will analyze the findings of the latest research on public trust during the COVID-19 pandemic in different countries and we will draw conclusions on how trust influences policy compliance, as well as the factors that influence public trust during the crisis.

  2. Literature review on trust in public institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Maintaining the credibility of leaders and, consequently, trust in public institutions is crucial for citizens' compliance with restrictive measures in many fields (Cooper, Knotts and Brennan, 2008; Lalot et al., 2020; Christensen and Laegreid, 2020), and for citizens' guidance in ambiguous situations (Delany-Crowe et al., 2019). Researchers who analyzed the influence of trust on citizens' compliance with distancing measures (Bargain and Ulugbek, 2020; Mazey and Richardson, 2020; Devine et al., 2021; Cairney and Wellstead, 2021) came to the same conclusion that trust, along with others factors, is a critical ingredient of a successful strategy to contain the spread of the virus. Many studies showed the benefits of trust on risk management situations (Wong and Jensen, 2020), on the efforts to contain the transmission of infectious diseases (Elgar, Stefaniak and Wohl, 2020; Henderson et al., 2020), and on the mobilization of population when large sacrifices are required on short-term and long-term benefits are insecure (Kye and Hwang, 2020). Robinson et al. (2021), based on a research conducted on U.S. citizens in 2020, showed that trust in public organizations is positively related to residents' intention to comply with protective measures and the policies aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19. Trust in public institutions gives credibility to the warning messages in case of hazardous situations (White and Fu, 2012) and increases preparedness of households (Choi and Wehde, 2020). Devine et al. (2021) found that governments that had higher support of citizens adopted less restrictive measures as they sought to manage the spread of the virus through emphasis on citizens' social responsibility. Bargain and Ulugbeck (2020) analyzed the relation between political trust at the level of European regions and the compliance with lockdown policies. The authors found that the decline in human mobility was more significant in high-trust regions in mid-March 2020, and the effect was strong for non-necessary activities.

    Yet, the relationship between the level of trust in institutions and support for policy implementation is not clearly established, as there are some authors who argue that trust is not unconditionally beneficial (Cairney and Wellstead, 2021). People might uncritically support restrictive measures without questioning their usefulness or support large and inefficient government spending. Elgar, Stefaniak and Wohl (2020) pointed out that highly trusting citizens may be more susceptible to misinformation about the severity of the pandemic. Trust is a double-edged sword as too much trust may lead citizens to believe that the government manages the COVID-19 pandemic when it is not (Devine et al., 2021). Wong and Jensen (2020) showed that public trust in government competence and fairness may lead people to underestimate risk and thus reduce compliance with distancing measures.

    Even though in countries with low level of trust in government, as Hong Kong, individuals and organizations voluntarily changed their behaviors before the government officially introduced restrictive directives regarding social distancing (Hartley and Jarvis, 2020), their response was based on the country's previous experiences with infectious diseases, such as SARS-COV-2. Therefore, even though trust in public institutions is beneficial for citizens' compliance with restrictive measures, we have to interpret its influence within the particular experiences of each country.

    Many studies analyzed the factors that influence citizens' trust in public institutions (Kye and Hwang, 2020; Henderson et al., 2020; Van de Walle and Bouckaert, 2003; Berg and Johnsson, 2020; Van de Walle, Van Roosbrock and Bouckaert, 2008; Bouckaert and van de Walle, 2003; Radu, 2020; Schmidthuber, Ingrams and Hilgers, 2020), and highlighted the importance of factors such as: performance of public institutions, decision makers' integrity, credibility and reliability, institutional settings that prevent corruption, transparency, quality of public services and culture, etc. The focus in this section is on the particular factors that influence trust in public institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Studies found that trust is constructed in the dynamic relationships between a much broader array of actors, and it is influenced by factors that are out of the range of the control of public institutions. Trust is not only a characteristic of the individual or the organization under scrutiny, but also the product of the characteristics of the assessing person (Robinson et al., 2021). Trust is also constructed based on the comparison with the performance of similar institutions, therefore it is not always under the control of institutions. De Vries, Bakker and Hobolt (2021) showed that the unfolding of the COVID-19 crisis in Italy influenced citizens' support for their governments in other countries. Van Dijck and Alinejad (2020) argued that due to the international nature of the pandemic and easy access to information, people compared responses adopted by their governments with the responses adopted by other governments, and they used the information to assess whether their governments were doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus. These comparisons influenced citizens' level of trust in public institutions.

    In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, social media played an important role in mediating the flow of information between public institutions, experts and the general public (van Dijck and Alinejad, 2020), and interfered in altering the level of trust in public institutions. Even though social media was a venue for misinformation, public officials used social media to communicate trustful information, and governments even concluded partnerships with social media platforms in order to redirect COVID related searches to websites of public authorities in order to increase the access to reliable information, as it happened in Italy (Lovari, 2020). In addition to trustworthiness of information, Henderson et al. (2020) found that providing timely information about the level of risk is essential for warning and properly preparing the population, and therefore maintaining citizens' trust in public institutions. Chubarova, May and Nemec (2020) analyzed the public policies adopted to contain the spread of the virus in the Czech Republic, Russia and Slovakia, and found that timing of adopting the policies explained the difference in the success of policies, since the policies did not differ greatly in terms of scope and measures adopted.

    Reliability of political leaders as being truly concerned for the wellbeing of the population, collaborating with experts and recognizing the merits of all people are crucial for building trust and the support for containing the spread of the virus (Mazey and Richardson, 2020). However, long lasting restrictive measures lead to behavioral fatigue, as people become tired of complying with restrictive measures and their trust in public institutions can erode. Cairney and Wellstead (2021) found that relaxation is essential to maintain the citizens' trust in government over time.

    Several studies identified a shift of trust to other relevant sources of trust that allowed government measures to be respected (Hafner-Fink and Uhan, 2021; van Dijck and Alinead, 2020; Henderson et al., 2020; Clapanova, Sivak and Szakadatova, 2020; Klimovsky and Nemec, 2020). Collaboration with public health experts gave more credibility and increased public support for restrictive measures. In the Netherlands, van Dijck and Alinead (2020) found a rise in the level of trust in government following the first televised address of the Prime Minister, who declared that the measures adopted to deal with the pandemic were discussed with the public health experts. In Slovenia, a country with traditionally low levels of trust in political institutions, Hafner-Fink and Uhan (2021) identified a high level of trust in expert groups of physicians and pharmacists. In general, independent medical commissions or agencies have more credibility than political leaders because previous pandemics or other social events eroded the trust in government (Henderson et al., 2020). Clapanova, Sivak and Szakadatova (2020) found that, in Slovakia, citizens who trusted the pandemic commission were more likely to comply with distancing measures than the citizens who trusted the government.

    However, in other countries, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic researchers found a trust boom or 'rally 'round the flag effect' (Schraff, 2020). Falcone et al. (2020) conducted a survey on Italian citizens in early March 2020 that showed a rise in government trust; the authors argue that the pandemic left Italian people with no...

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