The great recession has severely harmed the living conditions of many citizens in South European democracies. This article explores to what extent the deterioration of personal circumstances due to the economic crisis is related to the erosion of political trust. Previous accounts have provided scarce evidence of this sort of egotropic effects. Instead, they have underlined the role of sociotropic evaluations of the economic and political performance of institutions. However, these factors could be suspicious of endogeneity and third-variable bias. This article uses a survey fielded in the Spanish region of Catalonia that contains a novel battery of items to measure how the crisis has personally affected respondents. Latent class analysis is applied to that battery and propensity score matching is employed to estimate the causal effect of being personally affected by the crisis vis-à-vis not being affected. Results indicate that personal hardship reduces trust in institutions in turbulent economic times. Furthermore, the study of the Catalan circumstances sheds light on how attribution of blame works in a multilevel structure of governance during times of crisis. Personal economic hardship happens to decrease trust on national institutions and the EU but not on regional institutions, controlling for the ethno-national composition of the population of that region.
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This is a CATI survey implemented by the Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió, the official institute for public opinion studies of the regional government of Catalonia in Spain. It uses a stratified proportional sample of 1050 individuals, representative of the population above 17 years of age living in Catalonia and with Spanish citizenship (3.02% margin of error for P = Q=50).
Vidal (2017) found that the electorate of these challenger parties shares a sharp dissatisfaction with the political system and a desire for political regeneration, in contrast with voters of the old mainstream parties.
According to the CEO surveys (CEO 518, 2009; and CEO 758, 2014), in 2009, the average trust in the Spanish Parliament (in a scale from 0 to 10) was 4.4 in the whole sample as well as among the two distinct national communities. In 2014, the average figure was reduced to 3.1 (a statistically significant reduction: t = 6.3; p = 0.00), while among Spanish nationals it was 3.2 and 2.8 among Catalan nationals. The decrease in trust took place clearly among the two groups, though it was slightly more pronounced between Catalan nationals.
The exact wording of the battery is the following: “Next, I will mention several institutions. Please, rate the degree of trust you have in each of them using a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is no trust at all and 10 is a lot of trust: the courts of justice, the political parties, the Spanish government, the trade unions, the business associations/employers, the Catalan government, the Spanish Parliament, the Catalan Parliament, the European Union, the Catholic Church, the press, the army, the Spanish monarchy”.
Two separate PCA analyses have been carried out in the group of those who feel nationally Catalan and among those who feel Spanish, and the results are equivalent (available upon request). Only a single component including the same set of Spanish institutions and the EU emerged in both subsamples. Therefore, irrespective of the national community of reference these set of institutions seem to be the ones perceived as most responsible for the economic situation.
Having to resort to the economic help of relatives implies a range of possible situations going from the occasional assistance with some invoice to not being able to make ends meet on a regular basis. It expresses a situation of vulnerability and the incapacity of self-sustaining. Changing residence because of economic difficulties means not being able to afford the rent or mortgage. This has been one main problem in Spain due to the huge job losses and wage reductions, and the unfavorable legislation on evictions. Before the crisis, Spain was massively receiving immigration, and it turned into an emigrants’ country during the years of the crisis. Having thought of going to work to another country in such a context of deep crisis happens when people are unemployed, see no prospects of improvement, or their job is in danger or deteriorating. It is a thought, an idea, but it comes from an analysis of one’s current situation and the perceived lack of alternatives. Have trouble sleeping due to the economic situation is an objective condition that derives from an intense level of psychological distress. Having health related problems is also a rather objective state that stems from the psychosomatic effects of the levels of stress linked to the economic situation.
In any case, other operationalizations of the construct have been implemented: a latent trait and an additive index (see supplementary material B). Their impact on the dependent variable has also been tested, and results are presented in the robustness check section.
Further checks such as testing of the balancing scores by blocks using the Stata command pscore have also been performed producing successful results and being the balancing property satisfied. These results are available upon request.
An additional model presented in Table B6 in the Supplementary material B also includes proximity to the incumbent party (Partido Popular) as a predictor. Although this is a much more endogenous variable than ideology and subjective national identification, its inclusion does not erode the effect of personal economic hardship on political trust. On the contrary, the effect continues to be strong and significant.
Supplementary regression models including the interaction of the treatment with national identification show no moderator effects (not presented for the sake of simplicity).
Further tests have been performed to check the robustness of the findings. The same group of predictor variables was regressed on each of the items (separately) that compose the political trust index to verify any discrepancy that might have been hidden in the aggregation of the index (see table B2 in the supplementary material B). Results from the models are consistent in all cases. The effects of personal hardship (using the additive index) are always significant and relevant, and similar across the different items (the different political institutions). This model was also applied to six indices of political trust in which a different item of the original group of six was removed at a time (table B3). Results were consistent again. Following the same logic but with the target independent variable, five regression models were run excluding one item of the personal economic hardship additive index at a time (table B5). Results were another time consistent in all cases. The last test consisted in using the same regression model but only including one item of the battery of personal economic hardship each time (table B4). Except for the case of “changing the place of residence as a result of the crisis”, the separate items had significant and relevant effects on political trust. The lack of effects of this particular item might be related to the specificity of the Spanish case with a high proportion of homeowners in comparison with the share of renters. When economic hardship strikes, homeowners that pay mortgages might prefer reducing consumption levels instead of moving to a cheaper residence (in a situation of a collapse of the housing market). It might only be in the extreme situation of not being able to pay the mortgage by any means, that people would be forced to move or directly evicted from their homes (due to the strict Spanish legislation on evictions).
In Spain, the emergence of challenging parties during the crisis seems not to have come from the appearance of a new political cleavage (Fernández-Albertos 2015). The traditional left/right dimension continues to dominate the scene, and differences between old and new parties seem to come from their voters’ degree of dissatisfaction with the political system and their demands of political regeneration, which overlap with a generational divide (Vidal 2017). In Catalonia, however, there have historically been two political cleavages: the left/right dimension, and the (national) identity one (Pérez-Nievas and Fraile 2000). During the crisis, this second territorial cleavage might have gained prominence, as it could have captured the issues of the crisis of representation and the aspirations for political regeneration (in the form of the creation of a new state). This has happened in a general context where the differences between left and right were blurring, because social-democrats when in government were forced to implement austerity policies.
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The original version of this article was revised due to the the alignment of Tables 5 and 6 has been placed incorrectly.
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Tormos, R. Measuring Personal Economic Hardship and Its Impact on Political Trust During the Great Recession. Soc Indic Res 144, 1209–1232 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-019-02082-3
- Political trust
- Economic crisis
- Egotropic economic considerations
- South of Europe
- Propensity score matching
- Latent class analysis