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Generalized trust and political support: A cross-national investigation

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Abstract:

Citizen support for political institutions is a key component of any representative democracy. Two main approaches to explain political support can be found in the relevant literature: (i) Socio-cultural theories assume that political support is politically exogenous and emphasize factors such as social trust when explaining political support. (ii) Proponents of performance-based explanations, in contrast, see political support as primarily driven by politically endogenous factors, such as people's experiences of political authorities and institutions and evaluations of their performance. In this article I argue that the earlier research has missed an important source of interaction between these two sets of explanatory factors. More precisely, I hold that generalized or social trust plays a central but hitherto misunderstood role in explaining political support. The main hypothesis states that the effects on political support of performance-related factors are greater among low trusters compared to high trusters. I test this interaction hypothesis in a multilevel model, using cross-national survey data from 23 European countries. The results strongly confirm the stated hypothesis.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/ap.2010.3

Affiliations: Department of Government, Box 514, Uppsala 75337, Sweden

Publication date: 2010-12-01

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