How did the economic crisis impact social capital in European societies? The empirical studies conducted so far provide contradictory conclusions about the strength and direction of its influence. We argue that to better understand the effects of the economic crisis on social capital (social trust, formal and informal networks) it is crucial to examine both its impact on people’s economic situation and the way it reshaped the relationship between individuals and political institutions and altered key political factors (political trust, the welfare state, political activism). Our analysis of European Social Survey data between 2006 and 2012 shows that changes in social trust were smaller than in formal and informal social networks. It also confirms that political factors played an important mediating role in producing these changes: changes in social trust and formal networks can especially be explained by the impact of the political factors, while variations in informal networks are mainly due to the changing economy. Moreover, the analyses show that while the economic crisis generally lowered social capital, some mechanisms such as a sense of togetherness and left-wing political activism, enhanced social capital.