New data examines Pennsylvanians’ trust in public officials amid pandemic

May 27, 2020

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Continuing its analysis on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Pennsylvania, the Institute of State and Regional Affairs (ISRA) at Penn State Harrisburg has released new data examining Pennsylvanians’ trust in key public figures to provide information related to the coronavirus, finding that while generally, Pennsylvanians trusted state leaders to provide information more than national leaders, political affiliation played a large part in levels of public trust.  

The data brief is the third in a series of COVID-19 related topics the institute explored, and the first which uses data from the Spring 2020 Lion Poll, an omnibus survey that is representative of Pennsylvania’s population. A total of 1,047 web surveys were completed by adult Pennsylvanians between April 6 and April 16. The Lion Poll used a quota-based invitation system to produce a final dataset that is representative of Pennsylvania’s population by region and demographic categories.

“People need information to participate in civic decisions. They also need to believe the information when they hear it. Public trust in leaders and the information that leaders provide will be essential as the commonwealth reopens from the current crisis,” said Philip Sirinides, director of ISRA. “The Spring 2020 Lion Poll is an excellent opportunity to explore Pennsylvanians’ attitudes toward trust in public officials as sources of information amid the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic.”

Respondents were asked to indicate how much they trusted national, state and local leaders to give them information about the coronavirus. Overall, Pennsylvanians trusted state leaders (69%) to provide information more than national leaders (43%), although differences in trust tracked closely with political affiliation and demographics. Of respondents who identified as either Democrat or Republican, most (80.5%) said they trusted the public official of their respective political party, while only half (53.2%) reported trust in the leader from the other party.

At the federal level, Republicans, veterans, and older Pennsylvanians were more likely to say that they trusted President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence a great deal. Democrats, college-educated, and Black/African Americans respondents were more likely to say that they did not at all trust the president or vice president.

Looking at state leaders, Democrats and those ages 65 and older were more likely to say that they trusted Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine a great deal, while men and Republicans were more likely to say that they did not trust Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf at all. 

The scope of the pandemic’s impact is uncertain and may be determined, in part, by decisions that have yet to be made. The long-term effects of COVID-19 will depend on the information the public has access to and chooses to act on,” Sirinides said. “Closing gaps in public trust for the information from our leaders could help the Commonwealth take the next move to manage and emerge from the current crisis.”

ISRA explored this and other COVID-19-related topics in the latest fielding of the Lion Poll. The survey questions explored Pennsylvanians’ concerns about and attitudes toward the coronavirus, perceptions of and trust in government leaders, sources of coronavirus information, changes to daily life, impact on mental health, and testing. 

About the Lion Poll

The Lion Poll is an omnibus survey conducted by the Center for Survey Research (CSR) at Penn State Harrisburg’s Institute of State and Regional Affairs (ISRA). A total of 1,047 self-administered web surveys were completed by adult Pennsylvanians between April 6 and April 16. The Lion Poll used a quota-based invitation system to produce a final dataset that is representative of Pennsylvania’s population by region and, separately, by age/sex combined categories. The Lion Poll’s margin of sampling error is +/- 3.0% at a 95% confidence level. 

The purpose of the Lion Poll is to provide timely and accurate data to agencies, organizations, and researchers with statewide interests and responsibilities. Sponsors of CSR’s omnibus polls have used their results to track public policy issues; measure general attitudes, awareness, and knowledge of their organizations; and measure satisfaction with organizational services and performance. 

For more information about this and other reports related the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the Institute of State and Regional Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg at isra.hbg.psu.edu, or contact the institute at 717-948-6173 or isra@psu.edu

Last Updated May 28, 2020