Brief Project Description:
Institutional trust is one of the cornerstones of a democratic and well-governed society. During the last decades in numerous European countries, and more generally, Western societies, that enjoy established democratic systems, there seems to be a gradual decline of confidence towards institutions. This decline is reflected through phenomena such as the disdain of political institutions, the increased abstention from electoral processes, the political apathy, as well as through the rise of anti-systemism or political extremes. A series of surveys confirm a similar trend in Cyprus, which is also sees an increasing percentage of abstention in elections; indeed in the recent parliamentary elections the abstention rate reached 34.28%.1
Academic literature highlights two main approaches that can help us better comprehend institutional trust. The first, based on cultural theories, emphasizes as the name suggests the role of culture in the configuration of trust towards the political system and institutions, and argues that individuals learn to trust or not to trust based on the socialization processes, interpersonal networks and collective traditions and values. 2The second is based on institutional theories, which focus on the effectiveness and reliability of function; these two variables are, according to this approach, the determining factors that describe the levels of institutional trust. 3
Another important theoretical distinction worth noting the difference between the concepts of mistrust and distrust. While mistrust is linked to a more cautious attitude portrayed by active and well-informed citizens, who base their assessments on the effectiveness of political and civic institutions4, distrust is related to inherent beliefs or prejudices associated with the general political culture of people and is not linked directly to the short-term degree of effectiveness of the institutions5. The first case displays a critical attitude that can also be seen as a result of the well-understood democratic control that citizens exercise over the institutions in a mature democracy, while the second consists of entrenched predispositions that may be related to the inherent pathologies of a system, which to overcome them, they generally require more time and effort.
Despite the multiple theoretical approaches as to the concept of trust, and despite the shared concepts of related, but different terms, such as distrust and mistrust, the various surveys designed to measure trust, usually define "trust", in one-dimensional way. The "typical" question posed in such surveys is based on the wider perception created by citizens for a particular institution (e.g., "what is your degree of trust in institution X").
The aforementioned single-focused approach, runs the risk of creating a deceptive image, both in terms of the extent to which the real trust of citizens in institutions falls, but, and most importantly, in terms of the reasons that this trust exists or not. This in mind, the aim of this project is, to delve deeper into the trends recorded concerning the Cypriot citizens' trust toward the main institutions, to explore the circumstances that influence these trends. The latter part in particular is crucial as it will allow for the development of effective and efficient mechanisms and policies to tackle the said negative trends regarding mistrust and distrust.
- Official Results, Parliamentary Elections 2021, Central Election Service, Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Cyprus https://live.elections.moi.gov.cy/Greek/PARLIAMENTARY_ELECTIONS_2021/Islandwide
- Tabellini, G. (2008), “Institutions and culture”, Journal of the European Economic Association, Vol. 6/2-3, pp. 255-294, https://doi.org/10.1162/JEEA.2008.6.2-3.255.
- Van de Walle, S. and K. Migchelbrink (2020), “Institutional quality, corruption, and impartiality: The role of process and outcome for citizen trust in public administration in 173 European regions”, Journal of Economic Policy Reform, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17487870.2020.1719103
- Devine, D. et al. (2020), “Exploring trust, mistrust and distrust”, University of Southampton Working Paper Series, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5c21090f8f5130d0f2e4dc24/t/5e995ec3f866cd1282cf57b1/1587109577707/TrustGov+-+Trust+mistrust+distrust+-+20.04.2020.pdf.
- Thomson, R. and H. Brandenburg (2019), “Trust and citizens’ evaluations of promise keeping by governing parties”, Political Studies, Vol. 67/1, p. 249-266, https://doi.org/10.1177/0032321718764177.