Trust Crisis

TrustCrisis: On the consequences of political trust

The Research Project.

Low and declining political trust have been a prime concern of scholars, politicians, and opinion leaders across the globe for more than four decades. As high levels of political trust are widely assumed to be a necessary precondition for democratic rule, a decline is argued to fundamentally challenge the quality of representative democracy. Decreasing political trust has been associated theoretically with increasing electoral volatility, the rise of challenger parties, political stagnation, the breakdown and reform of political institutions, and ultimately with undermining the stability of democratic rule itself.

Despite vast popular and scholarly attention to low and declining political trust, and despite widespread assumptions about its fundamental consequences, systematic empirical knowledge about these consequences is strikingly absent. Fundamentally, the question whether low and declining political trust affect representative democracy remained unanswered.


TRUSTCRISIS aims to subject assumptions on the effects of low and declining political trust to systematic empirical tests, and to identify the relevant actors and mechanisms that bring about these effects. It meets these aims through three linked sub-projects about (1) the macro-level effects on the regime’s institutions, (2) the meso-level effects on the political elites that propose policy, affect public opinion, and mobilize voters, and (3) the micro-level effects on citizens’ law compliance and support for democratic reform. Causal relationships and mechanisms are uncovered by a.o. time series analysis, discourse analysis and content analysis of parliamentary debates, and elite interviews.

TRUSTCRISIS is headed by myself, in a collaboration with three postdocs (Erika van Elsas, Atle Haugsgjerd, Eefje Steenvoorden) and a PhD-student (Ebe Ouattara). It has been financed by the Dutch Science Foundation.