This study explores shifts in political trust during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Switzerland, examining the role that media consumption and threat perceptions played in individuals trust in politics. We combine panel surveys taken before and during the first nation-wide lockdown with webtracking data of participants online behaviour to paint a nuanced picture of media effects during the crisis. Our work has several findings. First, political trust, an attitude known for its stability, increased following lockdown. Second, consumption of mainstream news on COVID-19 directly hindered this increase, with those reading more news having lower over-time trust, while the relatively minor alternative news consumption had no direct effect on political trust. Third, threat perceptions a) to health and b) from the policy response to the pandemic, have strong and opposite effects on political trust, with threats to health increasing trust, and threats from the government policy response decreasing it. Lastly, these threat perceptions condition the effect of COVID-19 news consumption on political trust: perceptions of threat had the power to both exacerbate and mute the effect of media consumption on government trust during the pandemic. Notably, we show that the expected negative effect of alternative news on political trust only exists for those who did not think COVID-19 posed a threat to their health, while public service news consumption reduced the negative effect produced by government threat perceptions. The paper therefore advances our understanding of the nuanced nature of media effects, particularly as relates to alternative media, especially during moments of crisis.
media effects; newspapers; public opinion; broadcasting news; internet; western europe