The role of race and scientific trust on support for COVID-19 social distancing measures in the United States

PLoS One. 2021 Jul 9;16(7):e0254127. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0254127. eCollection 2021.


Pundits and academics across disciplines note that the human toll brought forth by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States (U.S.) is fundamentally unequal for communities of color. Standing literature on public health posits that one of the chief predictors of racial disparity in health outcomes is a lack of institutional trust among minority communities. Furthermore, in our own county-level analysis from the U.S., we find that counties with higher percentages of Black and Hispanic residents have had vastly higher cumulative deaths from COVID-19. In light of this standing literature and our own analysis, it is critical to better understand how to mitigate or prevent these unequal outcomes for any future pandemic or public health emergency. Therefore, we assess the claim that raising institutional trust, primarily scientific trust, is key to mitigating these racial inequities. Leveraging a new, pre-pandemic measure of scientific trust, we find that trust in science, unlike trust in politicians or the media, significantly raises support for COVID-19 social distancing policies across racial lines. Our findings suggest that increasing scientific trust is essential to garnering support for public health policies that lessen the severity of the current, and potentially a future, pandemic.

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • COVID-19* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics*
  • Physical Distancing*
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Trust*
  • United States / epidemiology

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.