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How Does Public Performance Matter for Political Trust?

Carlsbergfondets postdoc-stipendier i Danmark


The aim of the research project is to provide new evidence on the causal link between public performance and political trust by addressing the following research question: How do public performance matter for political trust? The project will differentiate and compare the effect on political trust of process performance-the goal of pursuing honesty, fairness, and mutuality through the prevention of distortion, inequity, bias, and abuse of office (Hood, 1991)-and of production performance-being effective and avoiding slack/waste (Hood, 1991). The project will also compare the effect of public performance on public trust at the local and the central government level and explore the importance of reference points for the effect of public performance on political trust.


Easton's model of political systems formalizes the intuitive idea that when governments succeed in providing high levels of output (services or otherwise), citizens will have higher levels of political trust (1953). The micro-level relationship between performance and political trust is, however, -when scrutinized-less straightforward (Van de Walle & Bouckaert 2002; Van Ryzin 2011): While poor performance may lead to low political trust, citizens may also evaluate performance as poor because their image of the government in general is poor. Thus, our knowledge of the causal link between public performance and political trust remains incomplete. Given the current political climate and present low levels of political trust, new research into the causes of political trust is warranted.


The project will use a combination of experimental survey data, survey data and panel register data. The project will conduct a survey among parents already part of the panel survey of parents in 200 public schools in Denmark. The same survey will be sent to a representative sample of residents within the municipalities of the 200 schools. The survey will contain two survey experiment where respondents with and without school children are presented with performance evidence on schools. Data is merged with register data on respondents work history, education, and for respondents with schoolchildren with register data on student performance. The project will be carried out in collaboration with Steven Van de Walle, Professor at Public Governance Institute, KU Leuven, in Belgium.


The project hopes to contribute with knowledge of how political trust can be (re)build and sustained. Very low levels of political trust are feared to lead to regime instability. Given the current political climate characterized by declining political trust and democratic institutions under pressure such knowledge is essential for scientists, politicians, and citizens alike.