During COVID-19, various public institutions tried to shape citizens’ behaviour to slow the spread of the pandemic. How did their authority affect citizens’ support of public measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19? The article makes two contributions. First, it presents a novel conceptualisation of authority as a source heuristic. Second, it analyses the authority of four types of public institutions (health ministries, universities, public health agencies, the WHO) in two countries (Germany and the UK), drawing on novel data from a survey experiment conducted in May 2020. On average, institutional endorsements seem to have mattered little. However, there is an observable polarisation effect where citizens who ascribe much expertise to public institutions support COVID-19 measures more than the control group. Furthermore, those who ascribe little expertise support them less than the control group. Finally, neither perception of biases nor exposure to institutions in public debates seems consistently to affect their authority.


The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way

Cite as

Heinzel, M. & Liese, A. 2022, 'Expert authority and support for COVID-19 measures in Germany and the UK: a survey experiment', West European Politics, 44(5-6), pp. 1258-1282. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402382.2021.1873630

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Last updated: 09 August 2022
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