Virus may leave Gen Z with a political scar

The study cites historical data to show that individuals who experience epidemics in their 'impressionable years' of 18 to 25 years show less confidence in political leaders, governments and elections

Nikita Kwatra
Updated7 Jul 2020
Young adults who experience epidemics in their ‘impressionable years’ tend to have less trust in political institutions.
Young adults who experience epidemics in their ‘impressionable years’ tend to have less trust in political institutions.

The coronavirus pandemic could severely dent the confidence of young adults in political institutions and leaders, says a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research of the US.

The study, by Cevat Giray Aksoy and others, cites historical data to show that individuals who experience epidemics in their “impressionable years” of 18 to 25 years show less confidence in political leaders, governments and elections.

The authors drew links between data on confidence in political institutions and leaders with data on epidemics since 1970. The data covers 140 countries. The first data-set is from the 2006-18 Gallup World Polls and the second from EM-DAT, a database of international disasters.

The authors argue that loss of confidence in political leadership and institutions is linked to healthcare-related policies at the time of an epidemic. It shows that individuals exposed to epidemics in their impressionable years are less likely to have confidence in the public health system and the safety and efficacy of vaccination.

The authors show that the impact is the most significant among individuals who experience epidemics under weak governments with less capacity to act against the epidemic. This could mean that such countries are most at risk, not only from covid but also from future epidemics as the situation can lead to further erosion of trust in the political system.

The recalibration of trust by people is a lot more frequent in democratic societies than in autocracies.

These findings present a catch-22 situation. Trust in government is important for effective containment, and failure in containment further harms trust in the government. In other words, low levels of trust allow an epidemic to spread, which in turn further reduces trust in the government, hindering the ability of the authorities to contain future outbreaks and address other social problems.

Also read: The political scar of epidemics.

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