After reading about Bell, California, discuss what techniques or steps you would take to instill trust in public administration. In 500-750 words, do the following:
1. Create a plan to instill trust with citizens in regard to public administration. Include specifically what action you as an administrator will take.
Use two to four scholarly resources to support your explanations.
First-Hand Experience and Second-Hand Information:
Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government
Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
Public Service and Administration, Bush School of Government, Texas A&M University
Little is known about how different sources of information drive citizen trust in government. To address
that gap this article compares disaster evacuees to observers, noting how trust differs as attention to
media coverage increases. First-hand experience supplies information to update trust through biological
and personal processes and performance assessments, while secondary sources provide information about
other people’s experiences, filtered through lenses that take an active role in crafting information. These
two types of information have varying effects depending on the level of government being trusted. Using
surveys administered a year after Hurricane Katrina, I find that Katrina evacuees have the highest trust
in federal government, until they start paying attention to media coverage, and that attention to
coverage has the most dramatic effect on these evacuees compared to all other groups. I also find that
increasing attention to second-hand information corresponds with higher trust in local officials, and that
this effect decreases as the level of government increases. It appears media coverage creates a comparison
in the mind of hurricane evacuees, causing them to update their performance assessments based on
comparing their own experience to that which they observe, thereby updating their political trust.
KEY WORDS: political trust, government performance, media, disasters, federalism, Katrina, hurri-
cane, information, levels of government
Extensive work shows that people base political trust on assessments of govern-
ment performance, including issues such as the economy (Hetherington &
Rudolph, 2008; Keele, 2005), scandals (Keele, 2007), and crime (Kelleher &
Wolak, 2007; Sindall, Sturgis, & Jennings, 2012). When citizens believe public
officials do a poor job, trust in them tends to decline, a pattern that transcends
national, state, and local levels (Rahn & Rudolph, 2002). In the past decade, pub-
lic management of and policy regarding disasters has also been blamed for
declining political trust (Robinson, Liu, Stoutenborough, & Vedlitz, 2013).
Fournier (2010) argues that the 2010 BP oil spill caused “a crisis of faith in public
and private institutions.” Nicholls and Picou (2013) tie Hurricane Katrina to
drops in American political trust locally, state-wide, and federally. After the
Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in March 2011, a poll revealed trust in Japanese institu-
tions “had plummeted” (Economist, 2012).
Do disasters drive political trust in ways different from noncritical events? Cur-
rent studies do not distinguish disaster management from other management or
policy situations. In this article, I contribute to the literature on political trust by
arguing that disasters have a unique effect on political trust based on the way
information is delivered to disaster survivors versus observers. These differences
do not exist in the same way in noncritical management and policy episodes, but
they do mold the perception of government performance both for those
Review of Policy Research, Volume 32, Number 3 (2015) 10.1111/ropr.12123
VC 2015 Policy Studies Organization. All rights reserved.
experiencing a disaster, and for those observing the event from afar. As informa-
tion is received, citizens update their political trust differently depending on
whether they experience or observe the critical event. Differences in the source
and quality of information then drive differences in political trust. Even when
the media determines a disaster to be a policy or management failure, such as
Hurricane Katrina, those experiencing the policy and management decisions
directly can have their political trust bolstered, while those observing the deci-
sions through media filters have their political trust damaged.
The hurricanes of the 2004–05 hurricane seasons provide a unique opportunity
to study information and trust in a federal system because they offer well
managed and poorly managed disasters that were followed by observers around
the world (Gallup, 2005; Kohut, Allen, & Keeter, 2005) and required activity from
all levels of government (Schneider, 2008). Using data collected on political trust
and hurricane experience after these seasons, I examine the relationship between
attention to media coverage, hurricane evacuation experience, and political trust
at all levels of government. I find support for my propositions that disaster survi-
vors update political trust based on first-hand experience with the outcomes of
policy and management decisions, while observers rely on third-party sources that
relay secondary information regarding other people’s experiences. These differen-
ces in information beget differences in political trust that depend on the percep-
tion of the performance being evaluated. Importantly, those who have direct
experiences with disasters end up with higher levels of political trust than observ-
ers, as long as they pay no attention to media coverage. When disaster survivors
do pay attention to media coverage, however, that coverage molds their political
trust and makes it look more like that of disaster observers. Among the two
media-watching groups, local political trust increases with attention to coverage,
state political trust increases at a lower rate, and federal political trust declines.
That is, the effect of attention to media coverage on political trust becomes more
negative, the higher the level of government.
These findings are important in the wealth of comparisons they allow us to
make. Comparing the opinions of disaster observers and survivors to each other is
rarely done because disaster survivors are such a difficult-to-reach population. Con-
sequently, studies tend to either focus exclusively on survivors, generally in shelters
(Eckel, Mahmoud, & Wilson, 2009; Whitt & Wilson, 2007), or exclusively on
observers (Maestas, Atkeson, Croom, & Bryant, 2008; Schneider, 2008). Comparing
media effects on trust across levels of government has been done but never with
observers and survivors side by side such that we can see how the trust of two
groups moves as media and the level of government both change. The fact that the
slope of the effect of attention to media coverage on political trust becomes more
negative as the level of government increases speaks to the need to return to the
ongoing debate on the sources of national and subnational trust (Hetherington &
Nugent, 2011; Jennings, 1998; Rahn & Rudolph, 2002; Ulsaner, 2002), which have
not yet considered disaster management or media behavior as causes.
The dichotomy between survivors and observers distinguishes disasters from
other management and policy outcomes that influence political trust only as they
become salient to an individual (Hetherington & Husser, 2011). Nondisasters
condition political trust through individual experience with those issues and with
346 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
their perceived outcomes (Chanley, Rudolph, & Rahn, 2000; Hetherington,
1998; Hetherington & Rudolph, 2008; Keele, 2005, 2007; Weatherford, 1987).
For disaster observers, critical events form political trust through perceptions of
others’ experiences. This doubles the power of secondary sources, which first
have the opportunity to select and mold information as it moves from the survi-
vor experience to the observer perception, and then the ability to craft political
trust for people who are not directly affected by a policy outcome.
My findings imply that media coverage of disasters has the potential to over-
ride personal disaster experience in the formation of performance assessments.
This phenomenon suggests that trust is damaged not simply by personal dissatis-
faction with particular policy decisions, but by evaluating one’s personal circum-
stances in the context of others’ experiences, and in light of the opinions of
information conduits. These implications are particularly relevant at a time when
citizens are easily categorized based on their preferred source of information.
Those receiving second-hand information from Fox News and MSNBC, the least
informative news sources (Cassino, Woolley, & Jenkins, 2012), will trust differ-
ently from newspaper readers (Moy & Scheufele, 2000). If media outlets are
driven by market considerations, outlets’ marketing strategies are forming politi-
cal trust systematically according to viewer characteristics.
These findings also have practical implications. Trust is necessary to achieve
citizen compliance that begets safety, efficiency, and cooperation (Wang &
Kapucu, 2008). Trust in public officials gives them the legitimacy and respect
required to fulfill their duties (Christensen & Laegreid, 2005), including manag-
ing disasters. At critical moments, trust in disaster managers is necessary to the
smooth operation of response efforts and swift economic recovery (Kapucu,
2008). A loss of trust can lead to a failure to cooperate in crucial moments, such
as the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The national-level CDC is direct-
ing management of the Ebola crisis for the United States, and citizens are receiv-
ing their information regarding the situation from media sources of their choice.
These media outlets deliver information based on the desire to hold viewers’
attention, molding trust in the CDC and either bolstering or undermining the
agency’s ability to communicate and contain the outbreak in the process.
Political Trust, Disasters, and Information
Consider an individual-level theory of government performance and trust, where
trust is an orientation toward public officials or agencies based on character and
ability (Keele, 2007; Miller, 1974). Trust is the belief one has that public officials
can and will perform their jobs: A trusts B to do X (Hardin, 2002, p. xx).
increases with the belief that an official is both capable of doing its job (I trust
him to do it because he is competent at doing it) and has the moral fortitude to
do it when called upon (I trust him to do it even if it is a personally difficult
thing to do; see Hardin, 2004; Levi & Stoker, 2000; Nicholls & Picou, 2013;
Trust is grounded in part in an evaluation of officials’ performance. Informa-
tion to assess performance originates on one of two levels: primary or secondary.
Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government 347
Primary, first-hand information comes from interactions with public officials and
their management and policy decisions; personal experience with the outcomes
of those decisions updates trust. Secondary information regards outcomes that
affect other people, decisions with which an individual does not have actual expe-
rience; with secondary information, perceptions update trust. A source of infor-
mation conditions political knowledge and trust, because the quality of
information can deteriorate as it moves from primary sources to secondary deliv-
ery mechanisms (Lin et al., 2014; Moy & Pfau, 2000; Moy & Scheufele, 2000).
When perceptions gleaned from secondary sources are negative, they damage
political trust much more than positive perceptions boost it, and can be nearly
impossible to reverse (Kaminski & Jefferis, 1998; Weitzer, 2002).
Disasters, unplanned disruptions in social systems sparked by critical events
(Quarantelli, Lagadec, & Boin, 2006), separate citizens into two groups based on
how they receive information about government performance. Those living
through the disaster update political trust based on first-hand experience, which
triggers mechanisms of performance assessment as well as biologically driven trust
processes. These disaster experiencers have their political trust activated due to the
uncertainty inherent in critical situations (Chryssochoidis, Strada, & Krystallis,
2009), particularly when they sacrifice their personal autonomy and decision-
making power to those in charge, trusting public officials to make decisions on their
behalf (Montgomery, Jordens, & Little, 2008). Evacuees bond with other survivors
and public officials during evacuation and recovery, which can also build political
trust through release of the neuropeptide oxytocin (Merolla, Burnett, Pyle, Ahmadi,
& Zak, 2013). In addition to these biological and personal means, evacuees update
political trust with performance assessments based on their own experience.
Meanwhile, disaster observers watch from afar, receiving information via con-
duits such as the media, which is likely to slant their perceptions for two reasons.
First, disaster coverage in the media tends to be evocative and shocking (Izard &
Perkins, 2011), priming viewers to receive emotional suggestion rather than fact
(Atkeson & Maestas, 2012). Personal interest stories result in skewed perceptions
(Jha & Izard, 2011; Perkins & Li, 2011) and false information (Sommers, Apfel-
baum, Dukes, Toosi, & Wang, 2006; Stromback & Nord, 2006). Observers tend
to forget that the information is not about their own experience with public man-
agement or policy outcomes; rather, it is information about other people’s expe-
riences. Already anxious, observers are inclined to distort perceptions when
thinking about applying another’s situation to their own circumstances (Camerer
& Kunreuther, 1989; Leschine, 2002; Wåhlberg & Sj€oberg, 2000).
Studies show that viewers receive shocking and visceral information as
although it is “real life,” rather than mediating it with “the cognitive acknowl-
edgement that this is ‘only television’” (Mutz & Reeves, 2005, p. 3), even though
journalists have chosen to convey images and stories unrepresentative of the
population of events. While media sources are responding to a 24-hour news
cycle, government sources are carefully checking facts before giving information,
meaning official updates come more slowly. “When more information is coming
from media than from government, trust begins to shift” toward the media as a
reliable source of information (Wang & Kapucu, 2008). If the information differs,
distrust in public officials grows.
348 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
Disaster experiencers also turn to media sources for information. For example,
evacuees may turn to television news to find weather reports, or they may hunt
down visual evidence of damages in the disaster area on the Internet. Although
this information does not originate from personal contact with public officials, it
still pertains to outcomes that influence them directly. They will, therefore,
receive it differently from the way of observers, who will be receiving information
that pertains to someone else. Ultimately, disasters affect political trust by updat-
ing information individuals use to assess trust. Experiencers receive information
personally and biologically, while observers receive information via second-hand
sources that take an active role in selecting and crafting the information itself.
The intricacies of federalism introduce another dimension into the relationships
among disasters, information, and political trust. Because disasters activate trust
in public officials, the disaster experience can either erode or strengthen political
trust, and can even erode political trust at one level of government while
strengthening it at another. This is possible due to the active role of the media
and the ability to shift blame in a federalist system.
A successfully managed disaster validates and fortifies trust, uniting citizens
with public officials to overcome fear, rally around a cause, and rebuild a commu-
nity (Teets, 2009). Poorly managed disasters diminish trust by exposing the
inabilities of officials to carry out the work they were entrusted to perform (Troy,
2004), often damaging trust more than a well-managed event can bolster it
(Slovic, 1993). “Trust is fragile. It is typically created rather slowly, but it can be
destroyed in an instant” (Slovic, 1999, p. 697).
Like disaster experience, the effect of media coverage on trust depends on the
nature of the coverage. Positive reports increase trust but not as noticeably as
negative reports damage it (Slovic, 1993). Negative coverage garners more view-
ership and, therefore, more media focus as well. Reports on national officials
carry the bonus of appealing to the most viewers, so negative coverage on
national officials tends to get a disproportionate amount of media attention, and,
therefore, has disproportionate negative effects on national political trust (Little-
field & Quinette, 2007).
Not all citizens know the responsibilities of each level of government during a
disaster (Schneider, 2008), making it easier for public officials to shift blame to
other levels of government (Birkland & Waterman, 2008). With the media’s assis-
tance, this shift often goes to the national level (see Maestas et al., 2008). For
example, millions clamor for information during catastrophes1 such as Hurricane
Katrina. It is easy to lose patience, and with it trust in public officials. Hurricane
Katrina was noted widely as a public management failure (Nicholls & Picou,
2013), during which the media “stepped outside their role of objective observer
and assumed a privileged position of pointing blame toward legitimate author-
ities” (Littlefield & Quinette, 2007, p. 27). Coverage of Katrina is, thus, seen as
markedly damaging to trust (Atkeson & Maestas, 2012; Birkland & Waterman,
Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government 349
In contrast, U.S. hurricanes leading up to Katrina had largely been managed
well and are likely to have bolstered trust for those living through them. The
2004 experience with Hurricane Charley resulted in efficient responses to Flori-
da’s subsequent hurricanes of that season (Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne), including
swift coordination of local, state, and federal responses (FEMA, 2009). Local offi-
cials’ management of these disasters meant national media coverage was less,
and those who experienced these hurricanes are likely to have had good
I, thus, propose that when disasters occur, observers react differently from
those experiencing disasters directly. In other words, reactions to disaster man-
agement are mediated by the experience of those who survived it, and by the
media’s portrayal of the event to those who observed it. When comparing those
who live through the disaster to those who observe it, disasters, thus, offer us the
chance to examine a unique relationship between information and trust within
the citizenry. Because disaster management, and the policies surrounding it, are
the responsibility of public officials at the local, state, and federal levels, this
opportunity exists at all levels of government.
Putting it Together: Hypotheses
Based on the discussion above, I hypothesize three relationships:
Hypothesis 1a. The more negative the experience, measured by first-hand Katrina evacuation,
the lower the trust.
Hypothesis 1b. The more positive the experience, measured by evacuation for non-Katrina
hurricanes, the higher the trust.
We should see the lowest trust among those experiencing a “bad” disaster,
the highest among those experiencing a “good” disaster, and moderate trust
among those who observe disasters filtered through the media. Hypotheses 1a
and 1b may seem obvious, but should be tested if only to validate the sample
Hypothesis 2. The higher the level of government, the more negative the effect of attention to
media coverage on trust.
National media coverage focuses on negative aspects of critical events and
national public figures (Littlefield & Quinette, 2007). Regardless of evacuation
experience, we should expect the most positive relationship (slope) between
media and trust to be at the local level. For state trust, that relationship should
be less positive, and federal trust should have the least positive relationship. Said
differently, as the level of government increases the slope of the relationship
between attention to media coverage and trust should grow more negative.
I examine these propositions with two different methodologies. First, a differ-
ence of means test clarifies whether Hypotheses 1 and 2 are worth pursuing. If
the media has an influence on trust, we should see different levels of trust among
citizens that pay different levels of attention to the media. The second test, a
350 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
seemingly unrelated regression (SUR) model, allows for cross-sectional analysis of
the variation in trust with controls for individual demographics and partisanship.
A SUR model is almost the equivalent of separate ordinary least squares (OLS)
models for federal, state, and local political trust, except the SUR model esti-
mates all trust variables, coefficients, and standard errors of each separate OLS
at the same time. This allows the simultaneous estimation of multiple dependent
variables with independent variables that are shared or unique to one or more
levels of trust, and accounts for the possibility of correlated error terms among
the estimated equations. If there are no correlated error terms, SUR estimations
will be identical to separate OLS estimations (Zellner, 1962).
Model, Data, and Estimation
I test these hypotheses in the context of the 2004–06 hurricane seasons. Contain-
ing more than 10 major hurricanes that required evacuation, these were the
deadliest and costliest seasons on record, displacing over three million people,
costing over $202 billion, and killing 2,150 people (Lott, Smith, Houston, Shein,
& Crouch, 2013; Stein, Duenas-Osorio, Buzcu-Guven, Subramanian, & Kahle,
2011). Survey data were collected in September 2006, one year after Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita. The lag between natural event and survey is important as it
allows for short-term effects of the disasters to wane. We know extreme reactions
are likely to abate over time (Bracht & Glass, 1968; Chong & Druckman, 2010).
Fielding this study a year after the hurricanes makes it less likely to measure
ephemeral phenomena and more likely to capture enduring effects.
Data are from an Internet survey collected in 2006, administered by Survey
Sampling International (SSI)2 to residents of hurricane-threatened areas in the
United States. Hurricane-threatened areas contain respondents with registered
addresses in a county or parish that either borders the coast or is separated from
the coast by no more than one other county/parish. The region surveyed spans
the U.S. coastline from Texas through North Carolina. Displaced residents, at
the time of the survey living outside their original home counties/parishes, were
included based on their original physical home addresses before displacement, so
responses came from 38 states and Puerto Rico. Of the 7,024 respondents, 2,329
(33.16%) reported evacuating for a hurricane during the 2004–06 hurricane sea-
sons. Of those, 1,068 (15.21%) had still not returned home, which we take as evi-
dence that the sampling frame was useful for contacting a difficult-to-reach
population, while still striving for maximum generalizability (Appendices A and
B contain survey questions and descriptive statistics).
There has been much debate and scholarship on the proper measurement of
trust. Recall that trust is based on one’s competence, or ability to perform one’s
job, as well as one’s credibility, or believability and character (Hardin, 2004;
Keele, 2007; Nicholls & Picou, 2013). Scholars often use indices to capture the
multidimensionality of trust. Many use the Trust in Government Index from the
American National Election Studies (ANES), which offers easily accessible longitu-
dinal data,3 but does not allow questions about trust in specific policies or offi-
cials. We opted to create an index asking specifically about A’s (the respondent’s)
Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government 351
assessment of public official B (e.g., the president), with respect to Y, disasters.
Examining trust in federal, state, and local executives and emergency managers
yields six dependent trust variables, one each for the: president; governor;
mayor; and federal, state, and local emergency management officials. Each
ranges 0–10, 10 being highest.
Respondents who evacuated for a hurricane at any point during the 2004–06
hurricane seasons are given a one for disaster experience, zero otherwise.
Katrina evacuees receive one for Katrina evacuation, zero otherwise. I choose
evacuees rather than all survivors (which would also include those affected who
did not evacuate), because evacuees are more likely to have had experience with
their local and state officials, and/or the consequences of their policy decisions,
via evacuation routes and instructions, possible shelter exposure, and relinquish-
ing/returning to property.
Measuring exposure to the media is notoriously difficult because of memory
and false reporting problems (see Mutz, 2011). I, thus, use a self-reported mea-
sure that captures attention to media surrounding Hurricane Katrina events and
recovery. Maestas et al. (2008) argue that attentiveness is composed of both expo-
sure to and engagement by media coverage, and is, therefore, a better measure
of the reception of information than a measure of frequency (0–5, 5 highest).
I control for partisanship. Keele (2005) finds that Democrats and Republicans
trust the president more when he is a member of their party, and Schmitt,
Gunther, and Liebhart (2004) find observers likely to accept second-hand infor-
mation fitting their partisan expectations. Since President Bush appointed the
director of FEMA and was seen with him during Katrina recovery, I expect
Republicans to be more trusting of President Bush and FEMA. In state trust
regressions, I control for membership in the governor’s party (0, 1),4 expecting
trust to increase for the governor and state emergency management agency
among respondents who share their governor’s party. Those who voted for
George W. Bush receive a one in the dichotomous Voted for Bush variable,
expected to be more trusting of federal officials than those who did not. Ideology
is a 7-point scale with higher values indicating a stronger preference for govern-
ment intervention (higher liberalism).5
To avoid possible biases from omitted demographic variables, I include stand-
ard demographics of education, age, sex, and race (Christensen & Laegreid,
2005; Hetherington, 1998; Keele, 2005). Standard expectations are that men
trust less than women (Christensen & Laegreid, 2005), and that race can matter
in assessing trust of some officials (Rudolph & Popp, 2010), particularly in the
context of Hurricane Katrina, which the media characterized as a racially salient
event (Gomez & Wilson, 2008; Nicholls & Picou, 2013).
I am not trying to model all influences on individual political trust. Other
impressive work incorporates municipal- or community-level factors (Marschall &
Shah, 2007; Rahn & Rudolph, 2005; Rahn, Yoon, Garet, Lipson, & Loflin, 2009).
Rather, I investigate the basic idea that first-hand information, less common at
higher levels of government, allows space for the media to step in and provide
information that is then used to evaluate government performance and influence
trust. As such, I hope to explain a facet of individual-level trust that has not been
352 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
A Visual Analysis
When hypotheses involve categorical variables, a visual inspection can be a useful
intuitive test: do the measures in question appear to move according to the
hypothesized relationships? If trust and attention to the media move together
conditional on the level of government, it would provide nominal evidence of a
relationship. Figure 1 plots political trust (averaged over all respondents) and
attention paid to media coverage of Hurricane Katrina for each of the six
The visual pattern is strikingly consistent with Hypothesis 2, that the effect
of attention to media coverage will be most positive at the local level, and
most negative at the federal level. The two lowest, dashed lines show trust in
FEMA and the president declining with greater attention to media
Trust in state and local officials appear to either go up or be unresponsive.
Difference-of-means tests confirm (Table 1): those paying high attention to
coverage have significantly lower federal trust, similar state trust, and signifi-
cantly higher local trust than those who pay low attention. With this prelimi-
nary positive support for our second hypothesis, I move on to more complex
Figure 1. Trust Target Profiles by Media Attention
Table 1. Mean Differences of Trust in Government
Federal State Local
President FEMA Governor State EMA Mayor Local EMA
High attention to media 4.19 4.10 5.88 6.52 6.29 7.55
Low attention to media 5.66 5.46 6.13 6.63 5.73 6.90
Difference 1.46** 1.35** .26* .11 2.56** 2.65**
N 2,235 2,235 2,235 2,235 2,235 2,235
Note: Two-tailed tests. Comparison of means between 11-point trust indicators.
*p < .05, **p < .01.
Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government 353
Table 2 displays the seemingly unrelated regression (SUR) for all six officials: a
respondent’s president, FEMA, governor, state EMA, mayor, and local emergency
services. Each model contains the variables mentioned above plus controls for
state of residence prior to evacuation, using Louisiana as a baseline. The atten-
tion to media variable is entered on its own and interacted with each type of
evacuation experience, to allow attention to coverage to have different effects for
evacuees of Katrina, evacuees of other hurricanes, and observers.
I use Presidential Trust results to help explain the table. Katrina gives the
change in trust for Katrina evacuees (compared to observers) who pay zero atten-
tion to media coverage: .81 (p < .01) for President Bush. Non-Katrina is the
Table 2. Estimates of Political Trust in Executives and Emergency Management Agencies at Three
Levels of Government
President FEMA Governor State EMA Mayor Local EMA
Attention to Media 2.05* 2.08** .12** .15** .21** .19**
for Observers (.02) (.02) (.02) (.02) (.02) (.02)
Attention to Media 2.27** 2.36** .06 .00 .14** .22**
for Katrina Evacuees (.07) (.07) (.06) (.06) (.06) (.05)
Attention to Media 2.06 2.03 .16** .14** .16** .16**
for non-Katrina Evacuees (.04) (.04) (.04) (.03) (.04) (.03)
Katrina Experience .81** .91** .01 .20 2.30 2.13
(.30) (.32) (.28) (.24) (.28) (.21)
Katrina Experience 3 Media 2.22** 2.28** 2.04 2.13* 2.08 .03
(.07) (.07) (.07) (.06) (.07) (.05)
Non-Katrina Experience 2.04 2.32* 2.14 2.03 .32* .32**
(.15) (.16) (.14) (.12) (.14) (.11)
Non-Katrina Experience 3 Media 2.01 .05 .05 2.00 2.06 2.02
(.05) (.05) (.04) (.04) (.04) (.03)
Democrat 2.75** 2.36** 2.21** .04 .03 .03
(.08) (.08) (.08) (.07) (.08) (.06)
Republican 1.29** .68** 2.25* .21* .52** .42**
(.09) (.09) (.11) (.09) (.08) (.06)
Governor of Same Party 1.07** .23**
Voted for Pres. Bush 2.20** .56** .78** .57** 2.18** 2.06
(.07) (.07) (.08) (.07) (.06) (.04)
Ideology 2.07** .02 2.01 2.01 2.01 2.04**
(.02) (.02) (.02) (.02) (.02) (.01)
Race 2.13 .13 .07 2.17 2.01 2.56**
(.12) (.13) (.11) (.10) (.11) (.09)
Sex 2.12 2.22** 2.15* 2.15* 2.18* 2.03
(.08) (.08) (.07) (.06) (.07) (.06)
Age 2.01** 2.03** 2.00 2.01** 2.00 .01**
(.00) (.00) (.00) (.00) (.00) (.00)
Education 2.65** 2.58** 2.34** 2.24** 2.06 2.07
(.07) (.07) (.06) (.06) (.06) (.05)
Employment 2.23** 2.16* 2.23** 2.09 2.02 .02
(.06) (.07) (.06) (.05) (.06) (.05)
State Controls Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Constant 4.39** 4.95** 3.47** 5.10** 4.80** 5.91**
(.19) (.20) (.18) (.16) (.18) (.14)
Observations 7,016 7,016 7,016 7,016 7,016 7,016
R-squared .35 .13 .19 .12 .05 .06
Notes: Base comparison group for Democrats and Republicans is Independents. Base comparison for state con-
trols is Louisiana. Robust standard errors in parentheses.
*p < .05, **p < .01.
354 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
change in trust for evacuees of other hurricanes who pay no attention to cover-
age: an insignificant 2.04. Attention to Media for Observers is the change in trust
for a unit increase in attention to media for observers (2.05; p < .05). If we plot- ted the relationship between attention and trust for observers, and did the same
for Katrina evacuees, the coefficient on Katrina experience 3 Media gives the
difference in the slopes of those two lines. For the president, attention has a neg-
ative effect for observers, and the effect is .22 more negative for Katrina evacuees
(p < .01). A similar interpretation is appropriate for Non-Katrina experience 3 Media. The effect of attention to media coverage, conditional on being a Katrina
evacuee, is the sum of coefficients for Media and Katrina experience 3 Media
(2.052.22 5 2.27). The second and third rows of Table 2 give coefficients for
these linear combinations. For Katrina evacuees, a one-unit attention increase
lowers trust in President Bush by .27 (p < .01). Attention for evacuees of other hurricanes is insignificant.6
Consider Hypotheses 1a and 1b, which assess the disaster experience as nega-
tive or positive by whether a respondent evacuated for Katrina or a non-Katrina
hurricane. These hypotheses are borne out under certain conditions. The poor
(Katrina) disaster experience has created lower levels of trust at the federal level
but only among Katrina evacuees who pay attention to media coverage. Katrina
evacuees who pay no attention to the media trust President Bush .81 more, and
FEMA .91 more, than observers (both p < .01), and exhibit no differences from observers at all in state or local trust. Meanwhile evacuees of other hurricanes
have a higher trust than observers of their local Mayor and Local EMA (both .32
higher; p < .05 and p < .01). Unexpectedly, however, those non-Katrina evacuees who pay no attention to the media actually trust FEMA less than observers (.32 points lower; p < .01).
Turn now to Hypothesis 2, which posits that increasingly negative attention
and increasing focus on higher levels of government will cause the slope of the
relationship between attention to media and trust to decrease as the level of gov-
ernment increases. The results for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, given in the sec-
ond row of Table 2, most vividly bear out this prediction. Local trust and
attention have a significantly positive slope (.14 Mayor, .22 Local EMA; both p < .01), flatten at the state level (insignificant .06 and .00), and then move to a sig-
nificantly negative slope for federal trust (2.27 President, 2.36 FEMA; both p < .01). For observers (first row) the slope pattern is the same: the highest slope is
for local trust (.21 Mayor, .19 Local EMA; both p < .01), slope declines but remains significant for state trust (.12 Governor, .15 State EMA; both p < .01), and then is lowest for federal trust (2.05, p < .05 President; 2.08, p < .01 FEMA). Evacuees of non-Katrina hurricanes differ. Attention to media has no
effect on federal trust, but reflects increases in trust by similar amounts for the
Governor, State EMA, Mayor, and Local EMA (.16, .14, .16, .16; all p < .01). Partisanship variables are significant in particular regressions. Democrats have
lower trust than Independents in President Bush (.75), FEMA (.36), and the
Governor (.21; all p < .01). Republicans have higher trust in President Bush (1.29, p<.01), FEMA (.68, p<.01), State EMA (.21, p<.01), the Mayor (.52, p<.01), and Local EMA (.42, p<.01). Sharing the Governor’s party increases trust in the Governor (1.07, p<.01), all but two of whom were Republican, and State
Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government 355
EMA (.23, p<.01). Voting for President Bush has a positive link with trust for all officials, with the largest coefficient unsurprisingly going to President Bush
Previous theories and findings suggest that skepticism, possibly stemming
from experience, education, and an urge to challenge authority, will have lower
political trust (Catterberg & Moreno, 2005; Fiscella, Franks, & Clancy 1998).
Negative relationships between trust and sex, age, education, and employment
confirm these ideas. It is also not surprising that Blacks are significantly less
trusting of their Local EMA than respondents of other races (2.56, p < .01),7 or that men are less trusting than women of FEMA, Governors, State EMA, and
Mayors (2.22, 2.15, 2.15, 2.18, all p < .05).
The idea that the media influences political trust is not new. What is new is the
ability to compare these influences between people who experience a critical
event and those who observe the event only through media coverage. The
opportunity to gauge the trust of disaster evacuees who paid no attention to cov-
erage reveals that experience with what scholars and journalists consider a policy
and management failure can still boost political trust when unbiased by media
As soon as Katrina evacuees begin paying attention to media coverage, that
coverage causes their trust in federal officials to slope downward much more
quickly than for either of the other two groups. Why is attention to media cover-
age exhibiting such a drastic relationship with this group, and not either of the
others? We may be witnessing a bit of distrust bred from comparison. For exam-
ple, it has been noted that some evacuees were allowed to live near their aban-
doned homes while others were transported across state lines without being
notified (Sterett, 2011). If one were far from home and not paying attention to
media coverage, political trust could still be intact. On seeing coverage of other
people living near home, however, trust could drop. In other words, Katrina
evacuees’ trust was affected by witnessing other survivors enjoying different
It is also possible that those paying attention to the media were doing so
because they did not trust their officials to manage the mitigation and recovery
process appropriately, that they were predisposed to be less trusting. This point
calls into question the direction of causality between trust and attention to media
coverage. Because we do not have measures of previous trust levels, or instru-
ments of attention to coverage, the question cannot be empirically settled here.
Instead we can discuss associations between attention to coverage and trust found
here, and base conclusions of causality only on theoretical guidance and previous
Can we be certain evacuees are distinguishing the policy and management
decisions according to the officials who made them? We cannot (although see
Schneider, 2008). Vallone, Ross, and Lepper (1985) suggest that evacuees could
be using the information they receive to support ideological positions they
356 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
already hold; that is, if they previously found their local officials more trustwor-
thy than their federal officials, updates to performance assessments will be likely
to confirm those preconceptions. This could be why evacuees in Sterett’s (2011)
study lost faith in their federal officials for evacuating them to Denver from Loui-
siana, despite the fact that the very need to leave Louisiana meant their state and
local officials had failed to competently prepare for and mitigate the critical
event. One of the finer implications of this study, then, is that we should probe
more deeply into how evacuees, as a special and separate group, interact with
attention to media coverage to attribute blame and update trust.
We should also be careful to note the effects of good and bad experience on
trust. Those with a “good” evacuation experience (non-Katrina hurricanes) trust
their local officials more than everyone else, no matter how much attention they
pay to coverage of Hurricane Katrina. It is possible that another comparison
effect is taking place. Del Pino (2005) reports that citizens evaluate public admin-
istration according to the results they see, meaning reports of poor performance
in New Orleans could have called to mind the good performance of local officials
for these other evacuees, who Trainor and Barsky (2010) tell us are the norm.
At least two more caveats must be issued. First, the sample is voluntary, and
although we took steps to minimize nonresponses, participation was restricted to
people with access to the Internet before the hurricanes. The sample does repre-
sent a broad cross-section of people, and importantly, it does not need to be gen-
eralizable to the entire United States. It would be inappropriate to target a
population with a higher proportion of individuals who had no interest in or
experience with hurricanes. This work should still allow generalizations about
assessments and trust, based on observed versus experienced events, among
Second, limitations of the survey instrument prohibit examining some interest-
ing aspects. We do not know how much information respondents received from
other secondary sources, such as friends or coworkers, how often evacuees inter-
acted with public officials, or whether respondents believe government failed.
This information would give us a fuller picture of the relationships investigated
here. Their absence does not destroy our inferences, because confirmed percep-
tions of failure are not necessary to test our hypotheses. Establishing that trust
varies according to and conditional on information points us firmly toward fur-
Although previous studies have evaluated Hurricane Katrina’s effects on national
attributions of blame (Birkland & Waterman 2008; Gomez & Wilson, 2008; Maes-
tas et al., 2008), to date no one has been able to compare a large sample of
observers to evacuees to see whether and how different experiences and levels of
information condition trust at various levels of government. These findings imply
that the media’s part in crafting trust goes beyond reporting on public officials.
Even coverage about national government behavior in another part of the coun-
try, reports of state governments that are not one’s own, and coverage about local
Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government 357
governments far from one’s residence can damage or bolster trust in one’s offi-
cials at home. This means public officials are fighting performance issues at
home, and performance perception issues caused by officials elsewhere. Consid-
ering the widespread coverage of scandals of mayors, attorneys general, and
Members of Congress, this effect of one official’s news on another’s trust gives
new meaning to the idea that one bad story can give everyone a bad name.
While previous studies of media and attributing blame during Katrina have
focused on prominent national news outlets such as The New York Times, many
people get their news today from more targeted, and less informative, sources
(Cassino et al., 2012). The segmenting of media consumption into predictable
groups, and the resultant targeting of media toward those groups, implies that
future media coverage will shape trust in different ways for different observers.
As these groups continue to use second-hand information to shape their per-
formance assessments, trust will depend on the media outlet and the public offi-
cial in question much more than it has in the past, making differences in
information delivery all the more crucial to understand.
Determining the impetus of political trust is essential in a federal system,
where power and responsibility are distributed across levels of government. The
task is particularly important during critical times because decisions happen
quickly and policies must be followed swiftly, often without time to deliberate
alternative courses of action, and often by officials in bureaucratic agencies.
Agency and organization theories tell us these managers are appointed so some-
one with expertise will be in charge of managing specific policy arenas (McCub-
bins, Noll, & Weingast, 1987, 1989), in this case emergencies and disasters. What
we must remember is that the managers in these agencies are not susceptible to
electoral review. We, therefore, have to trust that they are competent and believ-
able; otherwise we have no reason to presume they can or will accomplish the
tasks associated with their jobs. Trust is the bond that gives citizens confidence
operations will go well during a disaster, and thereby gives public officials the
space to make the decisions necessary to achieve success. For the decision makers
appointed to make policy and manage crises, political trust is necessary to do
their jobs. If we want to manage the emergencies, we have to trust the managers.
1 A catastrophe is worse than a disaster in that it damages multiple communities, and emergency per-
sonnel cannot perform their functions due to death, injury, or inability to reach those in need.
Most activities stop, including worship, recreation, and public services (Quarantelli, 2006).
2 SSI fielded a random sample within the target population. We restrictively defined nonresponses
as “unknown eligibility”—they might indicate unwillingness, unavailability, or death. By this esti-
mate, our response rate was AAPOR-1 at 9.4% (Smith, 2009). As Merkle and Edelman (2002) and
Keeter, Kennedy, Dimock, Best, and Craighill (2006) find no connection between response rate
and survey accuracy, the rate here is not a concern.
3 The ANES is collected biennially during even-numbered years. Derived from Stokes (1962), the
questions were designed to gauge “basic evaluative orientations toward the national government,”
(p. 64). Stokes never mentions political trust or trust in government in his original analysis.
4 This is collinear with Republican when the governor is Republican. I retain the basic party control
because, as Keele (2005) points out, there may be differences in trust due to party identification.
358 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
5 Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson (2002) find that people mislabel their ideology, for example, call-
ing themselves liberal when opposing intervention. I follow Keele (2005) and measure ideology
through support for government economic intervention. Higher support indicates more liberal
6 These values were generated with Stata’s postestimation lincom command. If B is the vector of
coefficients, V is the covariance matrix of B, and A 5 AT 3 B is a vector defining the linear combi-
nation, the variance of the linear combination is AT 3 V 3 A (Judge, Griffiths, Hill, L€utkepohl, &
7 Blacks are consistently less likely than other races to trust law enforcement agencies (Kaminski &
Jefferis 1998; Sindall et al., 2012; Weitzer, 2002).
About the Author
Gina Yannitell Reinhardt is Assistant Professor of Public Service and Administration at
Texas A&M University. Her research interests lie at the intersection of international
development and disasters.
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Appendix A: Survey Questions
The trust index for each official is the average of the answers to
the following questions:
On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means not at all competent in dealing with hurricanes and their
effect on residents, and 10 means completely competent,
please rate each of the following:
Your city’s mayor
Your state’s governor
The current President of the United States
Your local fire department
Your local police department
Your local rescue/ambulance squad
Your state emergency management agency
On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means not at all believable and 10 means completely believable,
please rate each of the following:
Your city’s mayor
Your state’s governor
The current President of the United States
Your local fire department
Your local police department
Your local rescue/ambulance squad
Your state emergency management agency
362 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
The following tables give correlation coefficients for competency and believability for each
Competency of President Bush 0.95
Believability of President Bush 0.96 0.82
Competency of Governor 0.94
Believability of Governor 0.95 0.78
Competency of Local Mayor 0.93
Believability of Local Mayor 0.93 0.72
Competency of FEMA 0.95
Believability of FEMA 0.95 0.81
Competency of State EMA 0.92
Believability of State EMA 0.92 0.69
Competency of Local Police 0.85
Believability of Local Police 0.86 0.69
Competency of Local
0.86 0.77 0.57
Believability of Local
0.90 0.61 0.83 0.66
Competency of Local Ambulance 0.84 0.74 0.56 0.82 0.62
Believability of Local Ambulance 0.89 0.60 0.80 0.64 0.93 0.66
Attention to Media Coverage
The “attention to media coverage” measure for each respondent is the average of the answers to
the following questions:
How closely would you say you followed the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina?
0 1 2 . . . 8 9 10
Not at all closely Extremely closely
How much attention do you pay to news reports about the reconstruction of the areas affected
by Hurricane Katrina?
0 1 2 . . . 8 9 10
No attention A great deal of attention
Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government 363
Fewer than 2.5% of respondents scored themselves as 5 or lower on the 0–10 scale, so those scor-
ing 0–5 were collapsed into one group and all given 0. The rest were given their original value
minus 5 points.
Appendix B: Descriptive Information
Variable Measurement Method N Mean StDev Min Max
Trust in the President Composite Index of Trust in
7,016 5.031214 3.248908 0 10
Trust in FEMA Composite Index of Trust in
7,016 5.062928 2.927698 0 10
Trust in the Governor Composite Index of Trust in
7,016 6.335448 2.685108 0 10
Trust in the State EMA Composite Index of Trust in
R’s State EMA
7,016 6.856899 2.248983 0 10
Trust in the Mayor Composite Index of Trust in
7,016 6.326326 2.499055 0 10
Trust in the Local EMA Composite Index of Trust in
R’s Local EMA
7,016 7.385737 1.902128 0 10
Katrina Experience 1: Evacuated for Katrina; 0:
7,024 0.1271355 0.3331485 0 1
Non-Katrina Experience 1: Evacuated for Non-
7,024 0.2099943 0.4073332 0 1
Attention to Media
Composite Index of Atten-
tion to Coverage and
7,024 2.855567 1.742806 0 5
Democrat 1: Democrat; 0: else 7,024 0.3134966 0.4639473 0 1
Republican 1: Republican; 0: else 7,024 0.3431093 0.4747814 0 1
Governor of Same Party 1: Member of Governor’s
Party; 0: else
7,024 0.3500854 0.4770304 0 1
Voted for Pres. Bush 1: Voted for President Bush;
7,024 0.4933087 0.4999908 0 1
Ideology 1–7: Very Likely to support
to share wealth
7,024 3.522637 1.730463 1 7
Race 0: Non-Black; 1: Black 7,024 0.0815774 0.2737394 0 1
Sex 0: Female; 1: Male 7,016 0.2082383 0.4060771 0 1
Age Years 7,011 46.0542 13.64931 18 90
Education 0: No college degree; 1: Col-
7,016 0.3255416 0.4686103 0 1
Fulltime Employment 1: Fulltime employment; 0
7,024 0.5673405 0.4954798 0 1
Alabama 1: Resident of AL (pre-evac);
7,024 0.0196469 0.1387936 0 1
Florida 1: Resident of FL (pre-evac);
7,024 0.3573462 0.4792521 0 1
Georgia 1: Resident of GA (pre-evac);
7,024 0.0375854 0.1902049 0 1
Mississippi 1: Resident of MS (pre-evac);
7,024 0.0338838 0.180943 0 1
North Carolina 1: Resident of NC (pre-evac);
7,024 0.0882688 0.2837056 0 1
South Carolina 1: Resident of SC (pre-evac);
7,024 0.0821469 0.274608 0 1
Texas 1: Resident of TX (pre-evac);
7,024 0.2529897 0.4347561 0 1
Louisiana 1: Resident of LA (pre-evac);
7,024 0.1174544 0.3219839 0 1
364 Gina Yannitell Reinhardt
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