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Trust in Government Lacking on COVID-19's Frontlines
Gallup Blog

Trust in Government Lacking on COVID-19's Frontlines

by Kristjan Archer and Ilana Ron Levey

People's trust in the medical advice and information they get from their government will be crucial in the coming days and weeks as the countries on the frontlines of COVID-19 outbreaks in Western Europe and the U.S. step up their mitigation strategies.

Somewhat fortunately, before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, substantial majorities of residents in Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain and the United States said they trust the medical advice and information they receive from their governments. The bigger worries from the findings from the Wellcome Global Monitor study in 2018 are the sizable pockets of distrust in every country, particularly in Italy, which has the highest number of cases of infections outside of China.

Across these six countries, the percentage of residents who said they did not have much trust, or none at all, in the medical advice and information they receive from their government ranged from a low of 13% in Germany to a high of 36% in Italy.

Pre-Pandemic Trust in Medical and Health Advice From the Government
In general, how much do you trust medical and health advice that the government of your country gives? A lot, some, not much, or not at all? If you don't know, please just say so.
A lot/Some Not much/Not at all
% %
Italy 63 36
United States 59 29
France 70 27
Spain 77 22
United Kingdom 81 18
Germany 83 13
Wellcome Global Monitor, 2018

While the vast majority of residents in these countries do have faith in their government's medical and health advice, the strikingly large minorities of residents in countries such as Italy (36%) and the United States (29%) may be less likely to adopt crucial government advice to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly when it is voluntary rather than compulsory.

Trust Varies Among Different Generations in Different Countries

A lot of media attention has been focused on how different generations are reacting to the implications of COVID-19. In the five countries in Western Europe, trust toward government advice on medical and health issues varies by age group and country. For the most part, trust is relatively high and level in France, Germany, Spain and the U.K.

However, in Italy, where COVID-19 has caused a national lockdown (which is the case now in Spain and France as well), trust declines with age. Seven in 10 Italians aged 15 to 29 said that they had a lot or some trust in the government's health advice, versus 56% of Italians aged 50 and older.

Americans' trust levels are more similar to those in Italy than they are to the other countries in Western Europe; 64% of the youngest Americans have trust in the government's advice compared with 55% of the oldest Americans.

Trust in Medical Advice and Health Information by Age
% A lot or some trust in medical advice and health information from the government
Ages 15-29 Ages 30-44 Ages 50+
% % %
Germany 85 83 83
United Kingdom 82 81 81
Spain 78 73 81
Italy 70 68 56
France 69 71 69
United States 64 61 55
Wellcome Global Monitor, 2018

Residents More Trusting of Advice From Medical Professionals

If residents don't listen to their government's advice, they may heed the advice from their doctors and nurses. In every country in Western Europe and the U.S., residents are more likely to say that they trust the information and advice from medical workers than their government.

Trust in the advice from medical workers is nearly universal in each of these countries, including the U.S., where 92% have at least some trust in the information they get from these sources, as opposed to 59% with the same level of trust in information from the government.

Residents of Western Europe, U.S. Place Higher Trust in Advice From Medical Workers
In general, how much do you trust medical and health advice from medical workers, such as doctors and nurses, in this country? A lot, some, not much, or not at all? If you don't know, please just say so.
A lot/Some Not much/Not at all
% %
France 95 4
Spain 95 4
Germany 94 5
United Kingdom 92 7
United States 92 6
Italy 91 9
Wellcome Global Monitor, 2018

Most Residents Confident in Hospitals and Health Clinics

When the Wellcome Global Monitor asked residents of the six countries about their confidence level in their respective nation's hospitals before the threat of COVID-19, the positive sentiment was clear: Substantial majorities in every country were confident. However, again, there were pockets of concern in each country.

For example, although 76% of Americans expressed confidence in their hospitals and health clinics before the pandemic, about one in six (16%) said they were not confident. This sentiment in the U.S. and other countries will likely be further tested, given the challenges to the nation's health systems and hospital capacity during the current pandemic.

Confidence in Hospitals and Health Clinics
In this country, do you have confidence in each of the following, or not? How about hospitals and health clinics? If you don't know, please just say so.
Yes No
% %
Spain 87 10
France 86 12
United Kingdom 82 15
Italy 78 20
United States of America 76 16
Germany 66 28
Wellcome Global Monitor, 2018

Bottom Line

Governments around the world are leveraging different strategies to combat the spread and effect of COVID-19, using models and techniques from city quarantines and herd immunization to social distancing. What all these strategies have in common is that public trust and immediate responsiveness is necessary for them to succeed.

While public trust prior to the pandemic was relatively high in Western Europe, it requires the adherence of close to the entire population to significantly reduce the curve of the pandemic. Every person is part of the solution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but if we don't trust the messengers advising us, can these plans be effectively carried out?

More detailed analysis about the world's attitudes toward science -- including vaccines -- is available in the Wellcome Global Monitor report, and the data are open to the public through the Wellcome website.

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