Surveying the Effect of COVID-19 on Trust

Project: Research project

Project Details


There is little doubt the COVID-19 pandemic will dramatically impact political views and participation in the 2020 election. Partisan polarization and public trust affect voter decision-making, and both shape how voters view responses to the disruptive forces of the pandemic. Understanding the political consequences of COVID-19 presents unique challenges, especially as many standard election-year surveys will miss the ways views were shaped by experiences early in the pandemic. We propose to reformat and expand a preexisting tool—the COVID-19 Social Change Survey (CSCS), a currently-fielded panel survey, administered to 8,000 Americans in three waves, beginning in early March. We seek funding to launch a new three-wave survey, using the existing CSCS sampling panel, to capture the political, attitudinal, and electoral consequences of COVID-19 associated with the November 2020 elections. Intellectual Merit By building on the existing panel, we will create one of the most comprehensive time-series datasets related to COVID-19 and the election, allowing us to assess trust in government and leadership, strengths and weaknesses of American political institutions, and challenges the pandemic presents to American democracy. By measuring trust and the conditions under which it is highly polarized, we can examine how the pandemic exacerbates partisan differences in trust, what individuals expect from elected leaders, and under what circumstances they support various policies. By exploring how people view electoral and other institutions, we can better understand who the public trusts to alter institutional rules when those institutions come into crisis. The intersection of the pandemic and a national electoral cycle presents a unique opportunity to understand the relationship between trust, community, institutions, and voting. Broader Impacts A time-series panel survey, administered during an evolving pandemic and a national election cycle, offers significant benefit to future researchers. The potential for causal analysis will be valuable to political and social scientists for decades to come, as they study the impact of COVID-19 on political engagement, opinions, participation, and faith in democracy. As COVID-19 stress-tests our democratic institutions, we ask: Does the public believe those institutions are strong enough to withstand that pressure? Do they see this as a time for needed reforms? Who will they trust to conduct reforms? What form should those take? These are questions of interest to scholars, policymakers, and the public. Media discussions of ‘the new normal’ suggest an awareness that America will not emerge as the same country it was prior to the pandemic, but how we change, and who we expect to create change, are driven by trust. Although we will compile a vast collection of survey metrics, tracing trends through the course of the pandemic, the principal offering of this project is a tool for understanding trust and engaging with the future of American political institutions.
Effective start/end date3/1/212/29/24


  • National Science Foundation (SES-2051194)


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