Polarization, the Pandemic, and Public Trust in Health System Actors


Alessandro Del Ponte, Alan Gerber, and Eric M. Patashnik

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Del Ponte A, Gerber A, Patashnik EM. Polarization, the Pandemic, and Public Trust in Health System Actors. J Health Polit Policy Law. 2023 Nov 21:11075562. doi: 10.1215/03616878-11075562. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37988069.
Context: Public opinion on the performance of health system actors is polarized today, but it remains unclear which actors enjoy the most (least) trust among Democrats and Republicans, whether the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced how people view their own physicians, and whether doctors have retained the ability to influence public beliefs about policy issues. Methods: We conducted two national surveys in 2022 and 2023 to examine these questions. Findings: Democrats rate the performance of medical research scientists and public health experts during the pandemic more highly than do Republicans and independents. About three in ten Republicans say that the pandemic decreased their trust in their personal doctors. Nonetheless, most Americans report confidence in physicians. We replicate the findings of Gerber et al. (2014) to demonstrate that respondents continue to have more positive views of doctors than other professionals, and that public opinion is responsive to cues from a doctors' group. Conclusions: What polarizes Democrats and Republicans today is not whether medical scientists and public health experts are competent, but whether the advice offered by these actors is in the public interest and should guide policymakers' decisions. Democrats strongly believe the answer to these questions is yes, while Republicans exhibit skepticism.
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