Trust levels steady despite Christchurch mosque shootings

The Christchurch mosque shootings have been described as New Zealand’s darkest day, but did the attack change the way New Zealanders trust each other and their institutions?

A new survey from Victoria University of Wellington, conducted about a month after the terror attack, asked about respondents’ trust in other people, and probed their trust in groups or institutions. It was led by Dr Simon Chapple, Director of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS), and Dr Kate Prickett, Director of the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families and Children, both based in the School of Government at Victoria Business School.

“We had just concluded the annual IGPS-Colmar Brunton trust survey when New Zealand was rocked by the events of March 15,” says Dr Chapple. “It occurred to us that if we had run the survey just after the attacks instead of just before, our results might have been significantly different, so we decided to find out what—if any—impact the tragedy had.”

He says New Zealanders showed no change in interpersonal trust following the Christchurch shootings. “On our measurement scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is no trust at all and 10 is totally trust, our survey showed that interpersonal trust averaged a value of 6.3, both before and after the shootings.“New Zealanders’ trust basically didn’t change in response to the shootings. If the goal of the shootings was to lower trust and sow suspicion across wider New Zealand, there is no evidence that it has succeeded in its goal,” says Dr Chapple.

“On the other hand, the survey results don’t provide evidence for any national ‘coming together’ in the sense of an upsurge in trust following the shootings, as was the case for some trust measures in the United States and in Norway following mass terrorist events there.”

The survey also asked respondents how much trust they had in specific people or groups living in New Zealand, including Catholics, Protestants, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists or agnostics, and Jews.

The survey showed the most trusted religious group in New Zealand is Buddhists, who numbered around 58,000 in the 2013 census.

“Thirty five percent of New Zealanders have complete or lots of trust in Buddhists,” explains Dr Chapple. “The least trusted religious group in New Zealand is a minority Christian group, Evangelicals, of which there were 15,000 in 2013. “

Dr Chapple says trust levels towards all other religious groups were effectively indistinguishable from one another, with 28.7 percent of New Zealanders having complete or lots of trust in Protestants (of whom there were about 900,000 in the 2013 Census) and 24 percent having little or no trust, compared to figures of 27.3 percent and 22.8 percent respectively for Muslims (46,000 people in 2013), and to figures of 29.8 percent and 17.3 percent for Jews (7000 people in 2013).

“There is no evidence in the trust data of a meaningful trust deficit displayed towards Muslims compared to mainstream Christian denominations,” says Dr Chapple. “Nor, for that matter, is there a trust deficit for Jews. There is however, some evidence of moderate disproportional social prejudice towards minority Evangelical Christians.”

He says the researchers also wanted to find out about gun ownership in New Zealand, and found that 15 percent of New Zealanders said they had guns in their homes.

“Overall, gun owners were more trusting of other gun owners, as well as the pro-gun lobby, than non-gun owners,” Dr Chapple says. “However, they also trust themselves far more than they trust the pro-gun lobby who claim to represent them.”

The full report is available here.

Note: The questions for the survey were designed by the IGPS to provide a representative picture of the New Zealand population and were adapted from trust surveys run in various countries. Data was collected by Colmar Brunton. A total of 1000 New Zealanders aged 18 years or over were interviewed online, randomly selected from Colmar Brunton’s online panel.