Healthy or harmful distrust? On the democratic relevance of political scepticism over blind (dis)trust

The Research Project.

Paradoxically, representative democracy requires not only citizens’ trust in the institutions of democracy, but also a healthy dose of political scepticism towards these institutions. Scholars warn against the likely detrimental effects of blind trust and blind distrust. The former would make citizens susceptible to manipulation, the latter to alienation. By contrast, (dis)trust that is not blind but evaluative stimulates vigilant civic engagement. While blind (dis)trust would lead to an anomic democracy, evaluative (dis)trust would stimulate democratic reinvigoration and accountability.

We should therefore not merely distinguish between political trust and distrust, but also between dispositional/blind and evaluative (dis)trust.
However, the standard political trust survey items and methodscannot distinguish dispositional (dis)trust from evaluative (dis)trust. This vast lacuna at the heart of political trust research left the major questions in the field unanswered: on the trends, causes, and consequences of political trust.


CRITICALTRUST aims to address this fundamental problem. It first develops a novel, two-dimensional model of political (dis)trust. Second, this model will be the foundation for primary data collection (large-N survey + experiments), employing measures to distinguish dispositional from evaluative (dis)trust. Third, the model will be used to assess the dispositional and evaluative element of (dis)trust on secondary data.

CRITICALTRUST is headed by myself, in a collaboration with two postdocs, three current and upcoming PhD-students, and embedded in a larger research group of political trust scholars. It has been financed as an ERC Consolidator project.