Daniel W. Drezner

What causes Americans to distrust government?

Your humble blogger has a very long day-job to-do list the first half of this week.  Still I can’t resist not linking to this John Sides post from The Monkey Cage about why there’s been a decline in  in trust in government.  There was a secular decline in trust in government that levelled off after ...

Your humble blogger has a very long day-job to-do list the first half of this week.  Still I can’t resist not linking to this John Sides post from The Monkey Cage about why there’s been a decline in  in trust in government. 

There was a secular decline in trust in government that levelled off after the Vietnam War started winding down.  Since then?  It’s the economy, stupid: 

What drives the trend in political trust? By and large, it is the economy. People trust government when times are good. They don’t trust it when times are bad. For the presidential election years from 1964-2008, I merged the trust measure with the change in per capita disposable income, courtesy of Douglas Hibbs. Here is the relationship between trust and the economy:

trusteconomy.png trusteconomy.png

The relationship is striking. The economy explains about 75% of the variance in trust. If you delete 1964, which looks like a potential outlier, the economy still explains 73% of the variance.

Of course the economy is not the only important factor. But it gets far less attention than it deserves when the hand-wringing begins.

I suspect it gets less attention because its a structural factor that is largely beyond the control of politicians.  It’s also boring.  It’s like a diet guru simply saing “eat less and exercise more” when asked what the trendy explanation is for how to lose weight. 

I wonder how generalizable the relationship is between trust and the economy.  For example, would a booming economy make Americans more likely to trust business, the academy, and other institutions?  Would it make Americans more likely to accept the evidence for global warming? 

What do you think?

Your humble blogger has a very long day-job to-do list the first half of this week.  Still I can’t resist not linking to this John Sides post from The Monkey Cage about why there’s been a decline in  in trust in government. 

There was a secular decline in trust in government that levelled off after the Vietnam War started winding down.  Since then?  It’s the economy, stupid: 

What drives the trend in political trust? By and large, it is the economy. People trust government when times are good. They don’t trust it when times are bad. For the presidential election years from 1964-2008, I merged the trust measure with the change in per capita disposable income, courtesy of Douglas Hibbs. Here is the relationship between trust and the economy:

trusteconomy.png

The relationship is striking. The economy explains about 75% of the variance in trust. If you delete 1964, which looks like a potential outlier, the economy still explains 73% of the variance.

Of course the economy is not the only important factor. But it gets far less attention than it deserves when the hand-wringing begins.

I suspect it gets less attention because its a structural factor that is largely beyond the control of politicians.  It’s also boring.  It’s like a diet guru simply saing “eat less and exercise more” when asked what the trendy explanation is for how to lose weight. 

I wonder how generalizable the relationship is between trust and the economy.  For example, would a booming economy make Americans more likely to trust business, the academy, and other institutions?  Would it make Americans more likely to accept the evidence for global warming? 

What do you think?

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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