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18B804F7d01 - Trust in government the relative importance...

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Trust in government – the relative importance of service satisfaction, political factors and demography Tom Christensen Per Lægreid Department of Political Science, Department of Administration and University of Oslo Organization Theory/Rokkan-center, E-mail: [email protected] University of Bergen E-mail: [email protected] Paper prepared for the Conference of the European Group of Public Administration, 4-7 September 2002, Potsdam, Germany - group on “Quality, satisfaction and trust in government”
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Abstract This paper focuses on trust in government, meaning the parliament, the cabinet, the civil service, local councils, political parties and politicians. Trust is measured in terms of specific support -- as indicated by people’s satisfaction with specific public services -- and contrasted with more general support, determined by political culture and demographic factors. The data used in this analysis are taken from a broad mass survey of Norwegian citizens conducted in 2001. The main findings are first, that people’s trust in government is of a general character: a high level of trust in one institution tends to extend to other institutions. Second, political- cultural variables have the strongest overall effect on variations in people’s trust in government. Here, the single most important factor is general satisfaction with democracy. Third, citizens who are satisfied with specific public services generally have a higher level of trust in public institutions than citizens who are dissatisfied. Fourth, trust in government is also influenced by demographic factors, such as age, education and occupation. 1
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Introduction. Trust in government is a multi-faceted, rather ambiguous concept. It covers general and systemic factors, such as the legitimacy accorded to the political-administrative system, but also more specific experiences with the government and its services and the dynamic interaction between the two (Bouckaert and Van de Walle 2001). Public opinion about governmental institutions is quite inconsistent and ambivalent, and it is characterized more by cognitive complexity than by consistency (Forster and Snyder 1988, Hill 1992, Listhaug 1990, Rainey 1996). Citizens are often sceptical towards the public sector when asked in general and abstract terms, but relatively satisfied with more specific services. Generally speaking, they want more service delivery from the public sector (Bennett and Bennett 1990, Goodsell 1994, Huseby 1995, Ladd 1983, Lægreid 1997). Fredericksson (1997) describes this ambivalence as the “paradox of distance”. While people trust government officials who are near at hand, they believe that government officials who are far away are lazy, incompetent and probably dishonest. This paradox may partly be a function of political rhetoric and the lambasting of political and administrative actors and institutions by the media, but also of citizens’ general disengagement from political life. In view of this paradox, an elaboration of
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