(2022). “Public Trust, Policing, and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from an Electoral Authoritarian Regime.” Social Science and Medicine, 2022, 305: 115045.
We examine how trust shapes compliance with public health restrictions during the COVID- 19 pandemic in Uganda. We use an endorsement experiment embedded in a mobile phone survey to show that messages from government officials generate more support for public health restrictions than messages from religious authorities, traditional leaders, or international NGOs. We further show that compliance with these restrictions is strongly positively correlated with trust in government, but only weakly correlated with trust in local authorities or other citizens. We use measures of trust from both before and during the pandemic to rule out the possibility that trust is a function of the pandemic itself. The relationship between trust and compliance is especially strong for the Ministry of Health and—more surprisingly—the police. We conclude that trust is crucial for encouraging compliance but note that it may be difficult to sustain, particularly in settings where governments and police forces have reputations for repression.