Rallying around the flag in times of COVID-19: Societal lockdown and trust in democratic institutions

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Martin Baekgaard
Julian Christensen
Jonas Krogh Madsen
Kim Sass Mikkelsen

Keywords

COVID-19, Societal lockdown, Rally around the flag, Trust in government, Unemployment

Abstract

In times of severe international crises, such as wars and terrorist attacks, citizens tend to ‘rally around the flag’ and increase their support for political leaders. We ask if the rallying effects identified in the literature extend to the societal lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19-related lockdowns differ from crises studied in the existing literature because they are political crisis responses with severe and immediate negative effects on the economy. Using daily responses right before and after the announcement of the Danish lockdown on March 11, 2020, we study trust in democratic institutions among unemployed Danes over the first three weeks of a large-scale societal lockdown. OLS estimates show that trust in the Danish Prime Minister’s administration was higher immediately after the lockdown announcement. This increase lasted throughout the entire period of measurement (until the end of March). We find similarly increased trust in other institutions, most significantly the judicial system and the public sector at large, whereas findings for trust in parliament and the media are less clear. Interrupted time series estimates point to the same conclusions albeit they produce estimates with more noise. Overall, our findings are consistent with the idea that citizens tend to ‘rally around the flag’ in times of crisis and furthermore suggest that increased trust tends to spill over to institutions that are not involved in crisis management decisions.

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