The political scar of epidemics

Cevat G. Aksoy, Barry Eichengreen and Orkun Saka

What will be the political legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic? This column uses data from the 2006-2018 Gallup World Polls to show that epidemic exposure during an individual’s ‘impressionable years’ of 18 to 25 has a persistent negative effect on trust in political institutions and leaders, especially in democracies. Combined with other evidence that trust is important for limiting the spread of infection, this raises the spectre of a circular, self-reinforcing spiral in which poor public health policy leads to deeper distrust, further undermining the effectiveness of public health policy.