Political trust and institutional performance

Some would argue that a measure of political distrust or lack of confidence is healthy for political life, that too much trust of politicians betrays innocence or unwise behaviour [Har99]. This may be so, but it is irrelevant. It does, indeed, make sense not to trust untrustworthy politicians and flawed political institutions, and in such circumstances lack of trust is hard-headed, sensible, and probably good for democracy. But at the same time, the point of democracy is to recruit political leaders who are honest and trustworthy, and, more importantly, to create a political system that ensures they behave in a trustworthy manner. Political trust is important because democracies are based on institutional mechanisms that are supposed to ensure that politicians behave in a trustworthy manner, or pay the political price.1 Confidence in the institutions that are supposed to maintain trustworthy politicians is a crucial element in this mixture.

Institutional micro theories about the origin of political trust hypothesise that political trust is a consequence of institutional performance. If the institutions perform well, they will generate trust [Mis01].

There are several variables in the ESS survey that could be used as measures of institutional performance. For example: "Satisfied with present state of the economy", "State of education" and "State of health services".

  1. Perform a bivariate correlation analysis between the variables "Trust in parliament", "Satisfied with present state of the economy", "State of education" and "State of health services". Is the hypothesis about a positive relationship between performance and trust plausible?
  2. Subset the data to a country you are familiar with and rerun the analysis from the exercise above. Do you find any differences? How will you interpret the results?