This study looks at population response to government containment strategies during initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in four high-trust Northern European countries-Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden-with special emphasis on expressions of governmental trust. Sentiment analysis and topic modeling analysis were performed using Twitter data from three phases during the initial European lockdown, and results were compared over time and between countries. Findings show that, in line with existing theory, assertive crisis responses and proactive communication were generally well-received, whereas tentative crisis responses or indications by the authorities that the crisis was manageable were generally met with suspicion. In addition, while government support was high in all countries during the height of the crisis, messages critical of the government as well as conspiracy theories were nevertheless widely circulated. Importantly, countries with the least assertive strategies, rather than clear negative responses, saw heightened polarization of sentiment in the population. Furthermore, in the case of Sweden, a laissez-faire strategy was generally accepted by the population, despite strong criticism from other countries, until mortality rates started to rise. Possible explanations for these findings are discussed with an emphasis of prior trust as a potential explanatory factor. Future research should seek to replicate these findings in other countries with different levels of prior governmental trust or with a different severity of the COVID-19 outbreak than the countries in this study as well as triangulate the findings of this study using alternative methods.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2021 Perlstein, Verboord. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.