Political and social trust

Trust in political institutions has been theorised as a psychological variable that generally affects people’s involvement in political activities. In this regard, trust deals with citizens” evaluations of political institutions, political entrepreneurs, and the political system. Political or public trust in government has been assessed by the extent to which citizens have confidence in public institutions to operate in the best interest of the society and its citizenry (Cleary and Stokes, 2006; Kim, 2005; Thomas, 1998). In this book, I will focus on citizens” trust in the political system and how it influences their propensity to vote. Miller and Listhaug (1990, p. 358) and Biihlmann and Freitag (2006) suggest that trust in a country’s political system reflects one’s evaluation of whether or not the political authorities and institutions at the national or local level are performing in accordance with one’s normative expectations, as people always expect a certain amount of performance from public institutions with regard to transparency, accountability and integrity. Ragsdale and Rusk (1993), and Pattie and Johnston (2001) argue that if citizens do not trust the political system, then the likelihood he or she will participate in voting will be lowered. Putnam (2000) provides a more robust theoretical backing for this assumption, arguing that trust is the main component of a democratic society. He stipulates that people will only vote if they are confident that the political system is responding in some way to their voting behaviour.

In Latin America, individual countries studies in Bolivia (Smith, 2009), Chile (Carlin, 2006), and Costa Rica (Seligson, 2002) indicate that citizens with a high level of trust for democratic institutions are more likely to engage

Why citizens vote 35 in electoral politics. Based on these considerations, the theoretical proposition that I would put forward with regards to political trust is that the higher the political trust, the higher the propensity to vote. At the aggregate level, it might be that low political trust weakens turnout the new democracies of East Asia; using survey data from the East Asian Barometer covering Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, Chang and Chu (2006) demonstrate that citizens” perception of corruption is inversely related to their trust in government institutions. However, this aggregate-level finding still rests on the hypothesised positive relationship between trust and voting at the individual level. But is trust in the political system the sole type of trust that can influence people’s voting decision? How about inter-personal or social trust? That is, does having trust in individuals within a given society in any way influence a citizen’s decision to participate? Social trust is defined as the extent to which a person is confident in and willing to act on the basis of the words, action, and decision of another (McAllister, 1995, p. 25). Cox (2003) and Timpone (1998) find that individuals who have trust in others are more likely to vote, while those who do not are less likely to vote. They argue that distrustful people may be less interested in the act of voting since they perceived the political system and other individuals as corrupt. It is possible that social trust is generally lower in countries (e.g. some in East Asia, Africa, and Latin America) that are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, or multilingual. The implication of this is that voters may be divided along these lines and therefore inclined to distrust each other. Regardless of this, I still expect that in general terms the greater an individual’s sense of social trust, the higher his or her propensity to vote.

Although these orientations (political trust, social trust, interest, and efficacy) are useful in explaining why people decide to vote, they have, nonetheless, come in for strong criticism. Almond and Verba (1963, p. 519) remark that these political culture orientations are implicit and often unconscious in an individual life - so basic that the person hardly reflects on them. In this sense, many are primitive orientations because they are so implicit and taken for granted that each individual holds them and believes that all others hold them; they become unstable assumptions or postulates about politics. Regardless of these aforementioned criticisms, I nevertheless argue that given the newness of democracy in these emerging countries, it is imperative for scholars to study how political culture/political-psychological might explain electoral behaviour in these societies. So, from this discussion of political culture effects, I derive the expectations already alluded to - that I will find positive associations between political interest, trust, efficacy (external and internal), and the decision to vote in newly consolidated democracies. Table 2.3 shows the variables that I have considered for empirical testing.

Our theoretical discussion of the political culture or political-psychological model has revealed the following variables as essential in explaining people’s decision to vote or not to vote. As shown in Table 2.3, these variables consist of political interest, political efficacy, and political trust. The literature surveying

Table 2.3 Overview of the expectation of the political-psychological model on vote choice


Expected effect for all regions (AF; LEC; EA. andCEEC)


Political trust



Political interest


Political efficacy


Note. Explains what variables within the four regions that are expected to take a positive/negative sign. * AF (Africa), * LEC (Latin America), * EA (East Asia), and *CEEC (Central and Eastern Europe).

people’s decision to vote in Western democracies has so far enabled us to formulate the following hypothesis with regards to each of these variables:

H3a: The higher an individual’s political interest, the higher is his or her propensity to vote in an election.

H3b: The higher an individual’s sense of internal or external efficacy, the higher will be his or her propensity to participate in electoral politics.

H3c: The greater an individual’s trust in political institutions, the higher will be his or her propensity to vote.

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