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Unformatted text preview: The Social Transformation of Trust in Government Russell J. Dalton The phenomenon of declining political trust among the American public has been widely discussed, with the explanations often focusing on specific historical events or the unique problems of American political institutions. We first demonstrate that public doubts about politicians and government are spreading across almost all advanced industrial democracies. The pervasiveness of this trend suggests that common social forces are affecting these nations, and we examine the social correlates of the decrease in trust. We find the greatest declines are among the better-educated and upper social status. These results suggest that changing citizen expectations, rather than the failure of governments, are prompting the erosion of political support in advanced industrial democracies. Introduction During the last third of the twentieth century, public trust in government and political institutions eroded in almost all advanced industrial democracies. The malaise is perhaps most visible in the United States. Beginning with the crises and political scandals of the 1960s and 1970s / Vietnam, urban unrest, and Watergate / Americans trust in their politicians sank steadily lower. Trust in government partially rebounded during the first Reagan administration; by the end of the Reagan/Bush administrations, however, public skepticism had returned. Even the end of the Cold war and the dramatic economic gains of the late 1990s saw only marginal increases in public evaluations of government. Declining trust in government has also spread across almost all advanced industrial democracies (Dalton, 2004). For instance, Sweden created a model of social democracy that many other European states sought to emulate, but even the Swedes have become progressively more skeptical about their democratic process (Holmberg, 1999). As scandals strained British faith in their political institutions in the mid-1990s, a parliamentary committee was formed on Standards in Public Life Correspondence to: Russell J. Dalton, Department of Political Science, 3151 Social Science Plaza, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-5100, USA. E-mail: email@example.com ISSN 0390-6701 (print)/ISSN 1489-9273 (online) # 2005 University of Rome La Sapienza DOI: 10.1080/03906700500038819 International Review of Sociology * / Revue Internationale de Sociologie Vol. 15, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 133 / 154 (the Nolan Committee). In testifying during the committees initial study of ethics in government, Ivor Crewe stated: there is no doubt that distrust and alienation has risen to a higher level than ever before. It was always fairly prevalent; it is now in many regards almost universal (Crewe, 1995). Even at the other end of the world, New Zealanders have become less trustful of their government, which led to a fundamental change in the electoral system in the early 1990s (Vowles et al. , 1995)....
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This note was uploaded on 04/05/2010 for the course POL 3232 taught by Professor What during the Spring '10 term at Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
- Spring '10