What factors might explain the cross-country variations in COVID-19 public performances and what lessons can be drawn to be better-prepared for future pandemics? This study focuses on the effects of policy stringency on COVID-19 public health outcomes to gain insights into national-level state responses to COVID-19 and the conditions for their effectiveness. Using data from 136 countries comprising 91.4% of the global population, we find that more stringent policies lead to lower infection and death rates. More importantly, the negative effects of restrictive policies on infection and death rates are moderated by political trust and democracy levels, possibly through the mechanism of popular compliance with government policies. Under conditions of higher political trust and lower democracy levels, the policy effects on infection and death rates are greater. However, while the results suggest the importance of policy stringency and political trust, we should not draw the conclusion that authoritarian political systems are more conducive to policy effectiveness. When comparing the moderating effects of political trust and democracy, political trust is more important as a facilitating factor. Therefore, in addition to making scientifically-supported policies, fostering political trust should be an important goal for governments to be better prepared for future pandemics.

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Copyright © 2022 Informa UK Limited. Article first published online: February 2022.

DOI: 10.1080/15309576.2022.2040548.

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