Social-Psychology of Vaccine Intentions: The Mediating Role of Institutional Trust in the Fight Against Covid-19
This paper examines the social-psychological mechanisms behind how citizens deal with uncertainties stemming from the COVID-19 vaccine developments in societies with prominent social/political cleavages. We argue that existing social/political tensions influence individuals’ trust in institutions that are responsible for coping with crises through a motivated reasoning mechanism, which eventually shapes citizens’ COVID-19 vaccine intentions. Using a nationally representative face-toface survey conducted in the pre-vaccination period in Turkey, we demonstrate that both self-identifying as a Kurd or feeling close to an opposition party are associated with lower trust in institutions actively dealing with the pandemic, which in turn, results in weaker intentions for getting vaccinated. Testing our full theoretical model reveals that while ethnic and partisan identities do not directly influence vaccine intentions, they exhibit an indirect negative effect via institutional trust impeding the fight against the pandemic. We show that it is difficult to tackle a sudden collective threat that requires public cooperation with health policies if the society is strongly polarized. Our findings offer key policy implications for the vaccination phase of the pandemic, and contribute to the domains of public health, conflict studies and individual judgment and decision-making about social risks.