Care to Trust? Gender and trust in leaders during the Coronavirus pandemic


There has been praise of how female leaders have handled the Coronavirus pandemic relative to their male counterparts by presenting a more ‘caring’ leadership. Of similar coverage has been the role of public trust for how successful governments have been in containing outbreaks. In this paper, we build on these two literatures to understand the different determinants of trust during the pandemic between men and women. Following social role theory, we argue that female citizens’ trust judgements are more likely to be driven by the perception that leaders are more caring than are men, whilst men’s judgements are more likely to be driven by competence judgements than women’s. We test this argument using original survey data from three countries. We find that this relationship holds in the United States, but not the United Kingdom or Italy. This adds to variation in gender gaps in the US and Europe; at the same time, it also suggests that the propensity for women to be less trusting than men is not down to (perceived) leadership traits.

Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties