Science-related populism declining during the COVID-19 pandemic: A panel survey of the Swiss population before and after the Coronavirus outbreak


In many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic led to increased public support for societal institutions including science, a phenomenon described as “rally-round-the-flag” dynamic. However, it is unclear if this dynamic has also reduced public resentment toward science such as science-related populist attitudes, that is, the preference of people’s common sense over allegedly elitist scientific knowledge. We test this, relying on individual-level data from panel surveys before and during the pandemic in Switzerland. Results show that science-related populist attitudes decreased after the pandemic started. The decrease was more pronounced among people who had been strong supporters of science-related populism prior to the pandemic, but otherwise spread equally across different sociodemographic and attitudinal segments of the Swiss population. This shows that the Coronavirus outbreak has the potential to undermine persistent (populist) resentments toward science and its epistemology among the general population.

In Public Understanding of Science, 31(2), 211–222.
Niels G. Mede
Niels G. Mede
Science Communication Researcher

I am a Senior Research and Teaching Associate at the Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ) of the University of Zurich, where I also completed a PhD in communication studies. My work focuses on science communication, public opinion, populism, digital media, climate change communication, and survey methodology. In 2022 and 2023, I was a visiting researcher at the Department of Life Sciences Communication of the University of Wisconsin—Madison and the Oxford Internet Institute. In June 2024, I will join the Digital Media Research Centre of the Queensland University of Technology as a visiting scholar.