Americans are skeptical of government -- except when there's a crisis

The approval ratings of many world leaders and government officials — including President Trump — have increased amid the COVID-19 crisis. Even U.S. government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have experienced a boost in popularity, despite public criticism of the government’s delayed response to the pandemic.

Greater public trust in government officials and agencies is the typical response to crises, including pandemics. Political scientists Bethany Albertson and Shana Kushner Gadarian find that when Americans feel anxious about threats like infectious disease, they are more likely to trust government officials and support policies they think may protect them.

You can see this playing out in real time. Despite an initial, flat-footed response involving delays in providing widespread testing and medical equipment, trust in the U.S. government started out high as people sought information on how best to counter the threat. Americans are also paying a lot more attention to the government: They are glued to their television screens, heeding medical advice and supporting policies that restrict their movement.

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