Democracy and Political Trust Before and After the Great Recession 2008: The European Union and the United Nations

Abstract

The paper investigates the change in the impact of democracy on political trust in national and international institutions, the European Union (EU) and to the United Nations (UN), after the start of the Great Recession 2008. Based on empirical evidence, the paper argues that the impact of the level of democracy on national trust is different from its impact on international trust post-crisis 2008, despite having been similar before 2008. Overall trend is in line with previous findings on decrease in trust to political institutions. In addition to these findings, this paper also demonstrates that the impact of democracy on trust in international institutions has changed radically after the start of the Great Recession. These findings are important for studies on political trust and democracy, on the consequences of the Great Recession, as well as for the comparative research on regional versus global institutions, such as the EU and the UN.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    In addition to this rich literature, only in the last 2 years, two books on trust have been published: Sonja Zmerli and Tom WG Van der Meer (eds.) (2017) Handbook on Political Trust, Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham; and by Eric M Uslaner (ed.) (2018) The Oxford handbook of social and political trust. Oxford University Press. In this paper, we use “institutional trust” interchangeably with “political trust”.

  2. 2.

    Following the studies on comparative regionalism and regional international organizations (IO) (e.g., Börzel and Risse 2016; Libman and Obydenkova 2013, 2018a, b), we refer to the EU as regional IO and use it interchangeably with “regional institutions”. In contrast, the UN is an IO without a regional dimension. This is in line with the definition of Börzel and Risse of “regions” as “located between the “national” and the “global” (eds. 2016, p. 6). From this perspective, the UN is referred to as global and the EU as regional organization.

  3. 3.

    Technically, “regional” institutions such as the EU are actually international institutions based in a specific region (in this case, in Europe). Therefore, “regional” and “international” are terms used interchangeably in the paper. When the paper refers only to “international” institutions, it implies both the EU and the UN. When the paper refers to only “regional” institutions, it means only the EU.

  4. 4.

    Armingeon and Ceka (2014), for example, state that opinions about the EU depend on public attitude to domestic policy. Somewhat similar, another studies focusing on exclusively democratic context (where democracy as a variable hold constant) examined variation in the opinion of US citizens (Brewer et al. 2004). In contrast to these studies, this project looks into variation in political regimes. Thus, some consideration of non-democracies is very important to the discussion.

  5. 5.

    This can also explain why high level of democracy may be associated with higher level of perceived corruption. In contrast, in a non-democracy where mass media is controlled by the government, the perception of corruption can be lower than in democracy and trust to national institutions can be higher.

  6. 6.

    On the role of mass media in perception of corruption, and in trust, also see Obydenkova and Arpino (2018).

  7. 7.

    That would be true for all modern nondemocratic states world-wide, probably with the exception of extreme isolated autocracies, like North Korea or Turkmenistan.

  8. 8.

    The focus on one geographic region (European states) also implies high levels of internal immigration and cross-border travel in the region, allowing citizens of non-democracies observe all the benefits of neighbouring European democracies (such as infrastructure, quality of services, etc.).

  9. 9.

    On the importance of the UN and voting alignment at the United Nations General Assembly, also see Obydenkova and Rodrigues Vieira (2019).

  10. 10.

    Data and documentation are available for free at the website www.europeansocialsurvey.org.

  11. 11.

    The data can be downloaded for free from http://www.freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world.

  12. 12.

    Political orientation was the only variable with a high percentage of missing values (around 15%). To avoid losing a large part of the sample, we have flagged missing values adding an additional category to the political orientation variable for missing observations (coefficients not shown in the regressions but available from the authors), i.e. the variable used in the model had four categories: left, centre—reference—right and missing).

  13. 13.

    For more details on the methodology followed in the construction of the CPI and for downloading the data, see http://www.transparency.org/.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for Fung Global Program of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies at Princeton University and to the colleagues from the Davis Center for Eurasian and Russian Studies at Harvard Universities for their comments and feedback on this research. We thank three anonymous reviewers of Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement for their excellent feedback on this project and their suggestions. Opinions and mistakes in this paper are sole responsibility of the authors.

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Arpino, B., Obydenkova, A.V. Democracy and Political Trust Before and After the Great Recession 2008: The European Union and the United Nations. Soc Indic Res 148, 395–415 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-019-02204-x

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Keywords

  • Democracy
  • International institutions
  • Political trust
  • Great Recession
  • Public opinion
  • National parliaments
  • European Union
  • United Nations