Political trust and democracy in times of coronavirus: is Australia still the lucky country?

A snapshot of the findings from a national survey
COVID-19 Infectious diseases Pandemics Disease management News media Political leadership Public service Public trust Social media United States of America Australia Italy United Kingdom

The lived citizen experience of the pandemic has been dramatically different in Australia when compared with the UK, Italy and the US. Australia has been lucky in terms of its relative geographical isolation from international air passenger traffic and its ability to be able to look both East and West for progressive policy ideas to combat the virus.

However, Australia has also benefitted from effective governance. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval rating has soared on the back of effective handling of the threat, facilitated by strong political bipartisanship from Labor, and by atypical coordination of state and federal governments via the National Cabinet. However, the big question remains as to whether the Prime Minister can sustain strong levels of public trust in the recovery period.

Key survey findings:

  • Political trust has increased significantly in Australia in times of coronavirus and compares strongly with Italy, the UK and the US. For the first time in over a decade, Australians are exhibiting relatively high levels of political trust in federal government (from 29 to 54%), and the Australian Public Service (from 38 to 54%).
  • Australians have the highest level of confidence in defence and law and order organisations such as the army (78%), police (75%) and the courts (55%). Levels of trust are also high in health services (77%), cultural institutions such as museums (70%) and universities (61%).
  • Australians continue to have low levels of trust in social media (from 20 to 19%) but trust in TV (from 32 to 39%), radio (from 38 to 41%) and newsprint (from 29 to 37%) have all marginally increased. Australians continue to exhibit high levels of trust in scientists and experts (77%).
  • Most Australians comply with the key measures to combat COVID-19 (e.g. social distancing) but are marginally less compliant across the range of interventions than their counterparts in UK and Italy but equal with the US. This is likely to be due to lower perceptions of the risk of infection given the significant differences in the number of COVID-19 fatalities.
Publication Details
Access Rights Type:
Democracy 2025 Report no.7