Published March 31, 2023 | Version v1
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WP5 Deliverable 5.1. Literature Review: Legitimate Crisis Governance and Trust

  • 1. University of Antwerp


The COVID-19 pandemic that emerged in 2020 as a health crisis, and which later became an economic and even political crisis (Boin et al. 2020), has shown that political actors like governments, leaders and courts were willing to take or endorse drastic measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. So-called lockdowns and other social restrictions were imposed on citizens without much public participation (Bol et al. 2021). Measures to counter the economic crisis that followed the health crisis were taken as a reaction to increasing demands of the public, though, sometimes, without parliamentary approval (e.g., Bursens et al. 2021). During the sovereign debt crisis as well, the EU imposed austerity policies on various countries without much public debate (Hartveld et al. 2013). At the same time, political systems are increasingly interconnected, forming a multilevel governance (MLG) structure. This means that local, regional, national and supranational levels of government each have their separate spheres of authority, but these levels also need to cooperate, hence the interconnectedness, and therefore become increasingly complex (Behnke et al. 2019; Biela et al. 2013). This interconnectedness of various levels is well expressed in times of crisis. Within the European Union (EU), for example, different levels of government were, in one way or another, involved in the mitigation of the pandemic (Lynggaard et al. 2022). The absence of public participation in the mitigation of crises and the increasing complexity of political systems raise questions on citizens’ perceptions of their governments such as, among others, their political trust. Indeed, political trust is seen as an important precondition for the functioning of a political system, especially in times of crisis (Schraff 2020). Research shows, for example, that political trust influences citizens’ willingness to vaccinate (Wynen et al. 2022) or to comply with laws (Marien & Hooghe 2011). The concept of political trust, which is related to concepts of legitimacy of a political system, is even more relevant in complex MLG contexts, where different tiers of government directly or indirectly influence citizens’ and where citizens can express trust in several levels simultaneously.

Political trust can thus be considered as important in both crisis and MLG contexts, and especially in times of crisis in a MLG system. That is why this paper examines the following question: How do crises mitigating measures and multilevel governance contexts impact political trust? Political trust being defined as a “person’s belief that political institutions will act consistently with their expectations of positive behaviour” (Algan 2018). We study this question by means of a systematic literature review based on the PRISMA guidelines of 46 papers on crisis mitigating measures and/or MLG systems, and political trust, whereby political trust is the dependent variable. The goal of this research is to systematize and integrate knowledge of these distinct strands of research, searching for overlaps, in order to get more insight in the phenomenon of political trust. This review thus aims to bridge the gap between two different strands of research by searching for communalities in the way crisis mitigating measures affect political trust and how MLG contexts affect political trust. This is even more relevant given the global scope of crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increasing pertinence of MLG structures. Both themes are extensively studied, but rarely in combination with political trust or in combination with each other (see for example Boin et al. 2020 for crisis governance, or Behnke et al. 2019 for MLG). The growing complexity and 'trans boundedness' of crises (Boin and Lodge 2016), however, require a stronger focus on the relationships between crises and MLG, as well as how they together affect political trust. This literature review is therefore a first step to determine the state of the art and to integrate findings with regards to political trust in both contexts. This paper shows that there are some overlaps between the different strands of research, both in use of data and methods as in conceptions of and explanations for trust. There are, however, some gaps in the literature, especially with regards to the levels of government that are commonly studied. Research on the effect of crisis governance on trust focuses on the national level as the most important level, neglecting the MLG structure of most political systems. Additionally, the research on trust in MLG contexts focuses mostly on national and supranational levels of government. Literature on lower levels of government, especially the regional level, remains scarce. In both strands of research, various conceptualisations and notions of trust are used. Finally, literature on crisis governance focuses on the policies themselves and on how the implementation of a policy affects political trust. This literature, however, neglects the possible impact of the way in which measures were decided on political trust, for example whether the fact that decisions on measures were taken after intergovernmental consultations or without public participation affects political trust. The paper consists of six parts and is structured as follows: the first part elaborates on the research strategy of the paper, namely how the systematic literature review is performed. The second part discusses the findings with regards to the dependent variable, political trust, while the third and fourth part assess the impact of respectively crisis governance and MLG structures on political trust. In a fifth part, the impact of crisis governance on political trust in a multilevel system is discussed by means of four articles dealing with the sovereign debt crisis, and related austerity policies, in the EU. The paper concludes with a discussion of similarities between the two kinds of research and of the gaps in the literature, finally also providing avenues for further research.


Del 5.1 Working paper Literature review and methodology.pdf

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LEGITIMULT – Legitimate crisis management and multilevel governance 101061550
European Commission