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Trust in Parliament

Journal article
Authors Staffan I Lindberg
Sören Holmberg
Richard Svensson
Published in Journal of Public Affairs
Volume 17
Issue 2
ISSN 1472-3891
Publication year 2017
Published at Quality of Government Institute (QoG)
Department of Political Science
V-Dem Institute
Language en
Subject categories Political Science, Media and Communications


Parliaments are—or should at least be—the central rule‐making institutions in democratic countries. If people do not have faith in the institution making the rules, it is less likely that people live by them. Consequently, it is beneficiary if trust in parliament is high. But it is also a normative good in itself. If the people do not trust the key institution whereby they can exercise “rule by the people over itself,” democracy itself is endangered. Secondly, trust levels should be reasonably even spread among relevant social and political groups in a society because parliament should ideally be a nonpartisan level playing field. However, because the majority in parliament typically chooses and sustains the acting government, one could say that legislatures in parliamentary democracies should not be level playing fields. According to this argument, there should be differences in trust in parliament between groups of individuals with varying political affiliations. Supporters of the majority in parliament should be expected to have higher trust in the legislature compared to citizens who voted for the opposition. We test our three hypotheses on data from some 80 countries participating in World Value Survey, either in Waves 5 or 6. We find that people in both new and established democracies harbor lower levels of trust than an intuitive interpretation of normative theory would lead us to expect. We also find that the attitudes of tens of thousands of citizens garnered from across 42 new and old democracies suggest that levels of average trust in groups of these societies are not as equally distributed, as a simple reading of democratic theory would have us to believe. In particular, individuals with a stronger interest in politics, and who are winners by the account of the last election, have statistically substantively relevant higher average levels of trust in parliament as an institution than do other citizens. The latter seems to us especially potentially problematic in particular for some of the new democracies where majority‐dominant parties manage to cling on to power over several election cycles. If what we find here were generally applicable also over several election cycles, we would expect the gap between winners and losers to widen and sediment and potentially sow the seeds of anti‐system movements opposed to democracy. Parliament is obviously a partisan creature in the eyes of most citizens in democracies. The level playing field idea does not fly.

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