Frederik Godt Hansen

Trust in Governmental Institutions: How Government Performance Matters

Citizens’ trust in governmental institutions is fundamental to democratic legitimacy. To advance our understanding of how to increase trust in government, this dissertation asks how citizen-state interactions and the political decision-making process influence citizens’ trust in governmental institutions. Based on three articles, the dissertation provides answers to whether performance in these two situations influences citizens’ trust in government. Combining insights from social psychology with public administration literature, the dissertation develops a theoretical framework suggesting that citizens’ trust in government depends on how citizens (1) assess street-level bureaucrats on warmth and competence and (2) view the efficiency of the political decision-making process. Thus, if we want to understand how citizens make trust judgments about governmental institutions, we need to account for both bureaucratic and political performance. Based on comprehensive randomized experiments in diverse country contexts, the dissertation demonstrates that citizens’ impressions of street-level bureaucrats’ warmth and competence influence not only trust in particular bureaucrats but also trust in more general administrative and political institutions. Furthermore, based on rolling cross-sectional data from the British Election Study, the dissertation shows that citizens’ trust in political institutions increases when politicians in the political decision-making process work efficiently to respect political promises. Finally, the dissertation discusses the implications and limitations of the findings and sets important directions for future research on the performance-trust link. The dissertation will be of interest to all interested in trust in government and behavioral public administration.  

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