But for people to have confidence in government, we need to get back to the basics.
Charles Barclay Roger 13 August Trust in government is often thought to be in terminal crisis, but the truth is somewhat more complicated, argues Charles Barclay Roger.
Has there been a decline in public trust in government? Are citizens dissatisfied with the democratic process?
Is democracy itself at risk? Over the past twenty years numerous studies have documented a precipitous erosion of confidence and satisfaction with the way government is working in the OECD countries, forecasting grave consequences for the future of democracy, and an entire field of research has developed in order to explain this trend.
But there is, in fact, remarkably little evidence of a decline. It can, first of all, refer to public opinion about the extent to which specific political incumbents, or even politicians as a class, are trusted to act in the public interest.
It can also refer to more diffuse attitudes towards government institutions or our political systems in general - whether citizens trust these to operate in a manner which reflects their values as a society.
Each identifies a different object that can garner varying, even opposing, degrees of support, but both dimension of public trust are important to consider because they are each part of what renders a government legitimate in the eyes of its citizens.
Typically, therefore, the first stop for studies of declining public trust is to cite survey data from the American National Election Studies ANESwhich have for years asked respondents a number of questions that can be used to track any fall along either of these dimensions.
He notes that in over three-quarters of Americans trusted their government to do the right thing most of the time, while in only a quarter were so trusting. Others figures are more specific, focusing on the conduct of politicians: But Americans are hardly alone it seems.
Similar declines have been noted by political scientists in nearly all other advanced industrial democracies. And, what is more, trust seems to have declined among all societal groups - young, old, rich, poor, we are all in this together.
Thus, if support has declined, either governments have been performing poorly, or citizens have started expecting more or different things from their governments, or both. Similar explanations look at the corruption and scandal of politicians.
And still others try to link levels of public trust to how government and politicians are portrayed by the media. Theories emphasizing the effects of values or expectations work rather differently, and come in two varieties.
The second, couched in a longstanding tradition that goes back to Alexis de Tocqueville, but which in its modern form bears the mark of Robert Putnam, another noted political scientist, known for his books Bowling Alone and Making Democracy Work, maintains that forces of modernization, trends of social and geographic mobility, as well as other factors, such as television, have weakened the bonds holding individuals and communities together and, in turn, eroded both interpersonal and political trust.
All appear to be plausible explanations. Yet evidence of systematically declining government performance or a link between value change and levels of public trust has been hard to establish. Determining whether the quality of government has declined since the s, for example, is a difficult task, but some of the best studies suggest not.
And, similarly, those who argue that changing values can explain these trends have been repeatedly confounded by conflicting evidence. Though current levels are, certainly, not what they once were, it is the degree of fluctuation that is most striking, not the overall decline.
After reaching a nadir infor instance, in which only 19 percent of Americans trusted their government to do the right thing most of the time, support climbed to over 51 percent by Similarly, the share of Americans who thought that government officials were corrupt declined from a peak in the mids, and in was only marginally higher than the share who thought so in And, while big drops have occurred, to be sure, as in Denmark in and Belgium inthese have been temporary, and equally punctuated by big increases when satisfaction returned to its previous levels.
All of which begs the question: It may be that the story of decline is, quite simply, sexier than the alternative; that it is easier to attract readers and to justify grant money by emphasizing trends which register falling rather than fluctuating levels of trust.
But mostly it is a matter of perspective.Trust in government has so far lagged behind and remains at historically low levels. Erosion of trust and diminished belief in government fairness. The long-term erosion of public trust in the federal government has been mirrored by a steep decline in the belief that the .
- Interest Groups Interest Group is defined as "an organized body of individuals who try to influence public policy." This system is designed so that interest groups would be an instrument of public influence on politics to create changes, but would not threaten the government much.
When government responsibilities at the (local, state or federal) or NGO levels fail to act timely to citizens who are in need of emergency services in catastrophic situations, trust in government and NGO become the battle cry for change to public policy due to government unresponsiveness and carelessness.
Public Opinion Can Influence Government Many of the arguments about the irrelevance of public opinion hinge on misreading poll results. Despite the limitations for public opinion, it exerts clear influence in widespread areas of government.
Trends in public opinion show levels of trust in government declining steadily since the s. Low levels of trust make it harder for elected officials to enact . The only time since that government trust broke 50% was in the months following 9/ After the tumultuous assassinations of the s, the Vietnam War, the resignation of President Nixon, and the stagflation of the late s, public trust fell from 80% in to about 25% in