The micro–macro interactive approach to political trust: Quality of representation and substantive representation across Europe

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Abstract

The relevance of the macro-context for understanding political trust has been widely studied in recent decades, with increasing attention paid to micro–macro level interactive relationships. Most of these studies rely on theorising about evaluation based on the quality of representation, stressing that more-educated citizens are most trusting of politics in countries with the least corrupt public domains. In our internationally comparative study, we add to the micro–macro interactive approach by theorising and testing an additional way in which the national context is associated with individual-level political trust, namely evaluation based on substantive representation. The relevance of both types of evaluation is tested by modelling not only macro-level corruption but also context indicators of the ideological stances of the governing cabinet (i.e., the level of its economic egalitarianism and cultural liberalism), and interacting these with individual-level education, economic egalitarianism and cultural liberalism, respectively. As we measure context characteristics separately from people's ideological preferences, we are able to dissect how the macro-context relates to the levels of political trust of different subgroups differently. Data from three waves (2006, 2010, 2014) of the European Social Survey (68,294 respondents in 24 European countries and 62 country-year combinations), enriched with country-level data derived from various sources, including the Chapel Hill Expert Survey, are used in the multi-level regression analyses employed to test our hypotheses. We found support for the micro–macro level interactions theorised by the evaluation based on the quality of representation approach (with higher levels of trust among more-educated citizens in less corrupt countries), as well as for evaluation based on substantive representation in relation to cultural issues (with higher levels of trust among more culturally liberal citizens in countries with more culturally liberal governing cabinets). Our findings indicate that the latter approach is at least equally relevant as the approach conventionally used to explain context differences in political trust. Finally, we conclude our study with a discussion of our findings and avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)954
Number of pages974
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Volume60
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

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