The eleventh hour? Only 30 percent of the Dutch trust their government

According to a recently published report about the social impact of Covid-19 in the Netherlands, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020, voter approval and trust in the Dutch government was at an all-time high of 70 percent. In September 2021, when the last poll of the study was conducted, that rate had plummeted to a frightening 30 percent. Historically, poor approval rates for a government are never a good sign. In 1672, when the Dutch Republic was invaded by foreign armies, instead of banning together, urban populations blamed the ruling municipal regents. In The Hague, an angry mob took to the streets where they brutally murdered the country’s leader, Johan de Witt, and his brother Cornelis, and strung their corpses from a tree where upside down, like carcasses.

The recent study, a collaboration of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the municipalities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, and research agency Kieskompas (Election Compass) has been monitoring voter approval of the government. The investigation started in April 2020 at the onset of the pandemic and held regular updates in July 2020, November 2020, March 2021 and September 2021.

Government failures
One of the major conclusions of the study is that the drastic decline in approval rating of the Dutch government is not due to its policies in managing the Covid crisis, but rather its political incompetence and failure to form a new coalition since the latest elections in March 2021. Moreover, the government’s negligence in solving the childcare allowance scandal is another cause of discontent for voters. Since 2015, Rutte’s government systematically accused of fraud thousands of recipients of a government allowance for childcare. Many were forced to pay back thousands of euros, causing financial difficulty for many families. After an earlier government report had disclosed the government’s responsibility for the fiasco, Rutte’s coalition cabinet finally resigned in January 2020. The parents were promised compensation for their financial losses, but the process is slow and many have still not received any money.

However, the declining confidence in the current Dutch government is not helping in implementing government policies to halt the Covid pandemic. Lack of trust in the government is an important reason for many citizens to avoid vaccination. According to the report, 12 percent of the total Dutch population refuse to be vaccinated, and 23 percent of the non-vaccinated argue that they do not trust the government and its agencies.

Education and age
The report specifies a significant correlation between educational level and trust in governmental institutions: the higher-educated have more confidence in the government. Those with a more vocational education background tend to be more hesitant, even doubtful, of government policies and regulations. There is also a noteworthy difference between age groups and trust in the government: young people trust the government the most and older generations the least. Those with the lowest confidence in the government during the period April and June 2020 were those aged 50 to 64 years old. The lowest confidence level of all was discovered in December 2020 among those 65 and older.

Since the report was published in early November, discontent with the government has only grown. On 26 November, only hours after the Prime Minister announced new Covid regulations which included closing cafés, restaurants, gyms and theaters at 5pm, hooligans in Rotterdam flocked to the streets and taunted local authorities with fireworks, setting cars on fire. In the past, young men who have not yet established careers and families are usually the first to express their distrust in the government and its regulations. However, when law-abiding, educated citizens with nine-to-five jobs and mortgages take to the streets, then authorities should be alarmed.

Written by Benjamin B. Roberts