Trust in politicians?

I thought I would draw attention to some interesting findings from recent academic literature. 

An article in the latest issue of Political Behavior examines trust in government among British Muslims.  It finds that British Muslims are likely to have a far higher trust in government, and Parliament, than Christians.  Among the findings: 62% of Muslims, compared to 35% of Christians, have a ‘lot’, or a ‘fair amount’ of trust in Parliament.  The explanation advanced by the author is to do with migration: Muslims are more likely than Christian respondents to be migrants and migrants tend to come to a country with a positive view of the host country’s institutions.  There was less of a marked difference between non-migrant Muslims and Christians in their attitude towards institutions.

The latest issue of World Politics carries an article on legislative malfeasance and political accountability.  It notes that evidence from a variety of countries shows that ‘elected officials who are charged with or convicted of criminal wrongdoing are typically re-elected rather than repudiated by the electorate’.  The authors argue that the key to voter reaction is the information they receive.  The authors found ‘voters in electoral districts with more access to information, measured by higher than median per capita newspaper and magazine circulation, voted out allegedly corrupt incumbents at a higher rate than did those in lower-information environments.’   The final sentence of the article reads: ‘Our study suggests that anything that compromises the press potentially compromises democratic accountability’.  The mass media in the UK come in for much valid criticism.  Nonetheless, recent events suggest that they fulfil a vital role as agents of political accountability. 

The articles:

Rahsaan Maxwell, ‘Trust in Government Among British Muslims: The Importance of Migration Status’, Political Behavior, Vol. 32 (1), March 2010, pp. 89-109.

Eric C. C. Chang, Miriam A. Golden, and Seth J. Hill, ‘Legislative Malfeasance and Political Accountability’, World Politics, Vol. 62(2), April 2010, pp. 177-220.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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7 Responses to Trust in politicians?

  1. Jonathan says:

    The migrants are also likely to come from countries that have extremely corrupt governments, if they have any democracy at all. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are.

  2. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Perhaps literaly all forms of constitutionalism and constitutional government depend and demand the right balance of loyalty (and even a bit of reverence) against another bit of distrust and skepticism. My experience is that in countries where trust is very high electoral democracy has little chance to be a major part of the government. Infromal and social democracy may prosper but not the balloting kind.

    I have operated in places (not to be specified) where some groups of students or organized young adults responded to my giving them a call for club or class elections by returning ballots saying that my choice was the thing they wanted. That is not evil or silly but it rather impedes an election…

    • Lord Norton says:

      Frank W. Summers III: I agree that there is a case for getting the balance right. My concern in the UK is that we may be veering a little too much towards being cynical and distrustful. Some degree of cynicism and wariness is helpful, but if taken too far it can prove corrosive.

  3. Croft says:

    ‘elected officials who are charged with or convicted of criminal wrongdoing are typically re-elected rather than repudiated by the electorate’.

    I’d be interested in which countries they considered as to whether the correlation is with those countries without campaign finance reform or limits?

  4. Lord Norton says:

    Croft: They were drawing on other literature and don’t identify the countries. They did undertake an extensive and sophisticated case study of a certain leading West European country.

  5. Carl.H says:

    “It finds that British Muslims are likely to have a far higher trust in government, and Parliament, than Christians. ”

    Funny that, I expect in Iran you don`t get a lot of Christians slag off the their democratic Government either.

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