Skip to main content

Government performance, political trust, and citizen subjective well-being: evidence from rural China

Abstract

Little is known about the political determinants of subjective well-being across nations. The objective of the study presented in this article is to single out the importance of a variety of determinants on the perceived quality of life in China, aiming, in particular, to understand the role and the importance of political conditions. Using individual level data from a survey conducted in Ya’an Municipality of Sichuan Province, our analysis shows that not only the personal situation and the local environment, but also the performance of one’s town/township government, as well as political trust are relevant for citizens’ subjective well-being. However, if political trust is important for satisfaction with life, this is predominantly an effect of trust in local government. In the Chinese context, our findings confirm that citizens’ quality of life is influenced by the legitimacy of the political order, conceived in terms of output-legitimacy, i.e., the perception of governmental performance.

Introduction

In recent years, improving the quality of life of target populations has emerged as a key objective of many development agencies and national governments across the world. For the People’s Republic of China, the results of the analysis of the Asia Barometer Survey of 2000 Chinese respondents by Shu and Zhu (2009) reveals that substantial majorities of the Chinese people experience feelings of happiness, enjoyment, and accomplishment. The proportion experiencing these indicators of a high quality of life are larger in China than in some more prosperous countries. The Chinese people’s high levels of satisfaction with their interpersonal, material, and nonmaterial life domains, their positive assessments of their relative living standards, and their high rate of marriage are three direct positive influences on subjective well-being. Value priorities and other demographic characteristics also have indirect bearings on subjective well-being in China.

Little is known about the political determinants of subjective well-being across nations. The dominant theoretical approaches, comparison and trait theory, suggest that cross-national differences will be either non-existent or largely independent of political conditions. It is hardly surprising that a principal concern of empirical democratic theorists is the search for evidence that politics matters in the lives of ordinary people. Much has been learned about how politics affects public policies, but less attention has been devoted to identifying the socio-political factors that determine the final variable of interest, viz. the general level of subjective quality of life (Radcliff, 2001:939). Although culture does appear to play a significant role, the results of democratic competition have even more dramatic effects upon levels of life satisfaction: subjective appreciation of life is positively affected by the ideological complexion of governments and by qualitative features of the welfare state (Radcliff, 2001).

In this article, we propose a deeper exploration of the determinants of the quality of life in the Chinese context. More particularly, we focus on the role of the local context in which people live, and, more particularly, on the role that local government quality plays in this context. Indeed, it is plausible to argue that the local habitat, as the most proximate living environment, has a significant—if not the most significant—influence on shaping resident’s quality of life.

Quality of life, local habitat, and local government in China: some theoretical considerations

Quality of life

Quality of life is a shorthand term for many facets of socioeconomic well-being, and the creation of various measurements for quality of life results from the effort to measure economic and social progress. Average income by itself is not a good indicator of well-being; instead, we need to have a way of assessing the health, nutrition, and education status of a population over time. The Human Development Index is one such measure, developed by the United Nations Development Programme. The term of quality of life as such was first defined by the World Health Organization as a life which reflects how people perceive their place in life, in culture and value system where they live and where they make relationships to objectives, standards or interests (ISOQL, 2008). The concept of quality of life has been imbued with many different meanings, depending on disciplinary perspectives, such as economics, environmental science, medicine, sociology, psychology, political science, and demography (Andrejovský et al., 2012). The concept of quality of life is not very consistent, and lacks consensus about its meaning (Hajduová et al., 2011).

In fact, more than 100 different definitions of quality of life have been noted in the literature; no consensus exists on a definition or on how quality of life should be measured (Hagerty et al., 2001; Morais et al., 2011). Generally, these definitions capture aspects of well-being, happiness, above-average living standards, and life satisfaction, going well beyond gross domestic product (GDP) to encompass a broader range of indicators of social and economic well-being. They include economic well-being but also factors such as housing conditions, health conditions, education opportunities, public safety, environmental conditions, freedom of expression, recreational opportunities, work environment, social interaction, and mobility.

There are numerous measurements which are focused on valuation of quality of life globally, but there are considerable differences in the methodology and results among them. Despite the diversity of the content of these indices, to the main components of examination, researchers usually include the economic, health, education, and life expectancy of the population (Beslerová & Dzuričková, 2014, p. 37). This is also relevant for the Chinese context, as shown by Knopman et al. (2015) who use a straightforward definition: Quality of life captures people’s satisfaction or happiness with their surrounding environment and living conditions. They recommend both objective and subjective measures to assess quality of life in their study of China’s Pearl River Delta to capture not only physically measurable conditions—such as the amount of green space or number of parks, air and water quality, or availability of transportation options—but also the perceptions and level of satisfaction that residents have about their cities, districts, and counties and the services and amenities available to them (Knopman et al., 2015, p. 2).

Quality of life should, therefore, be seen against the backdrop of a person’s perceptions of his or her position in life against the milieu of the individual’s culture and the prevailing societal value system of the population in the region where he or she resides. In general, though, it is intended to refer to either conditions of the environment in which people live (the natural environment and housing) and/or attributes of the population themselves (Pacione, 2003).

Determinants of quality of life

In considering what determines an individual’s subjective well-being or happiness, Diaz-Serrano (2009) states that various domains such as work conditions, the financial situation, housing, health, and the environment have an impact. The satisfaction level within each of these domains depends not only on the individual’s actual circumstances but also on his or her personal ambitions and desires in each of these domains (Easterlin, 2006). There is a fairly broad consensus in the literature that, on the individual level, life satisfaction increases with higher income or socioeconomic status, higher levels of education, age over the mid-40s, social capital (i.e., interindividual trust), religiosity, as well as family status (i.e., marriage) (see Bjørnskov et al., 2008, p. 120).

The local environment also plays a role. In particular, housing and residential satisfaction is universally seen and acknowledged by scholars as one of the most important elements that individuals regard as representative of a good overall quality of life (Baiden et al., 2011; Diaz-Serrano, 2009; Dunn, 2002; Smith et al., 2003). Møller (2001) has even gone so far as to say that housing is the most important predictor of life satisfaction. Nevertheless, residential satisfaction is one of the most elusive of these references and the perceived quality of life within neighbourhoods is also one of the most intangible measures to assess (Pacione, 2003).

While the individual economic situation, as well as circumstances of working and living are obviously important determinants of the quality of life, recent research also has pointed out the importance of macro-level social, economic, as well as institutional and political variables (see Bjørnskov et al., 2008). Particularly relevant, in this respect, is the study by Clench-Aas and Holte (2021) based on data from two waves of the European Social Survey (ESS, 2006, 2012) in 19 countries. They find that personal life satisfaction not only varies with income but is also positively associated by levels of social and political trust. While income explains most of the observed variance in personal life satisfaction, the influence of income is significantly modified by social and political trust. More precisely, “trust acts as a buffer against the effect of personal income on satisfaction with one’s personal life, and hence dampens the effects of social inequality on the sense of well-being” (Clench-Aas & Holte, 2021, p. 10). In other words: the higher social and political trust, the less important is personal income for the quality of life.

Aims of the study

Existing research thus suggests that main determinants of the quality of life are found both on the individual as well as on the contextual level. Regarding the individual level, crucial factors relate to the material conditions (i.e., financial situation), but also to the conditions at work and within the family as individual’s main primary group. At the contextual level, objective conditions of living in the place of residence are important factors. But political conditions—as expressed by people’s trust in the political and regulatory authorities—can also play a role at that level.

The objective of the study presented in this article is precisely to single out the importance of these factors on the perceived quality of life in China, aiming, in particular, to understand the role and the importance of the political conditions.

According to Kampen et al. (2006), ample empirical evidence exists that satisfaction and trust are positively correlated. Kampen et al. (2003) show a significant association between satisfaction with public service delivery and trust in government by means of a latent underlying variable. Van Ryzin et al. (2004) find strong links between overall satisfaction with public services at the local level and confidence in government. However, Van de Walle et al. (2005) provide evidence that the association between satisfaction and trust may be caused by a general attitude toward government. Other authors have also noticed this process of generalization. A common factor seems to be behind the evaluations of all institutions that are related to government (Loveless, 1997; Mishler & Rose, 1997; Stipak, 1979; Uslaner, 2002). Empirical models linking satisfaction and trust have yet to account for this common factor. Hence, some recent relevant studies have begun to investigate the role of the state in affecting subjective well-being. This line of inquiry is important because it is a fundamental premise of democratic theory that political structures and policy outcomes can significantly influence citizens’ sense of satisfaction with their lives. These findings raise the question of how public policy outcomes in general are related to well-being (Whiteley et al., 2010).

Effective public services and successful economic policies should have a large impact on subjective well-being. This is because, apart from the episodic act of voting, most people never participate in politics, with activities such as protesting and party work being the preserves of small minorities (e.g., Pattie et al., 2004). High rates of nonparticipation will limit the extent to which individuals experience procedural utility. In contrast, all citizens are recipients of public services in one form or another, so it is likely that reactions to public service delivery will have significant effects on how most people feel about their lives. A government seeking to enhance the subjective well-being of its citizens needs to ensure that public service delivery on the ground works well.

How quality of government affects residents’ life satisfaction is a seldom discussed subject in a non-democratic context. Given the emphasis on performance- or competence-based legitimacy in authoritarian states, it is interesting to test the relationship between local government performance and local residents’ life satisfaction in a non-democratic polity like China. Hence, our first hypothesis reads:

H1: Good performance of local government leads to high life satisfaction.

A trusting attitude in government should incubate a series of positive feelings among citizens, such as a belief in government accountability, a greater conviction of the honesty and uprightness of civil servants, and a firmer sense of being empowered and respected. These feelings may result in stronger trusting attitudes towards neighbours, friends, communities and even the whole society, cultivating a sense of belongingness and altruism, which will further contribute to residents’ psychological health as well as their satisfaction with life (Ekici & Koydemir, 2014; Mueller, 2009).

Trust and income strongly influence personal life satisfaction. Money is the most important. However, trust forcefully dampens the effect of income. Clench-Aas and Holte (2021) find that trust, whether it is personal, social or political, compensates for the effect of low personal income on people’s personal satisfaction with life, and hence reduces differences in sense of well-being caused by economic inequality, both between individuals, between local communities, and between countries.

Previous research has shed some light on the relationship between individual political trust and subjective well-being, suggesting that at an individual level, political trust has a positive association with individual well-being (Hudson, 2006; Liang, 2016). However, as argued by Newton and Norris (2000), instead of seeing trust as a property of individuals, perhaps it is the collective levels of trust that should be compared. Newton (2001) also suggests that political trust has the same theoretical relationship to political capital, as social trust has to social capital. In this way, political trust can be conceived as a kind of stock largely affected by governance and a contextual property of societies in which individuals live. For this reason, it is worth to know whether living in a place with higher political trust is linked to higher individual subjective well-being. If so, improving governance as a means of earning increased public trust is not only good for institutional reasons, but also beneficial to the daily lives of people within society (Fu, 2018).

Politicians, professionals, and regulators who want a satisfied electorate or population, should invest in enhancing the level of trust, both personal, social and political, in the population they are serving. This is partly because there is a direct relationship between trust and satisfaction at all socio-structural layers of society, and partly because trust in its different forms plays a strong and consistent role as a buffer against the effects of personal income on inhabitants’ personal life satisfaction, and thus dampens the effects of economic inequality on the inhabitants’ sense of well-being, and ultimately, their public mental health (Clench-Aas & Holte, 2021). Hence, we hypothesize that

H2: High political trust leads to high life satisfaction.

According to Wu and Wilkes (2017), in most countries there are systematic differences in the level of trust in national and local government that take one of three patterns. In some countries, individuals trust the national government more than local government (hierarchical trust); in others individuals trust local government more than national government; while in some countries, individuals trust both levels of government equally. In most Asian societies the majority of citizens are more trusting of local government and are less trusting of national government; the exception is China where the vast majority of citizens are more trusting of national government and are less trusting of local government (Li, 2004, 2013, 2016; Saich, 2007).

In terms of the nature of these evaluations, the evidence suggests that Chinese citizens often assess the performance of local government far more critically than they assess national government (Lewis-Beck et al., 2014). In contrast to local government, the national government is able to distance itself from unpopular policies and to take credit for those that are better liked. This privileging of the national level likely reflects the multi-level principal-agent Chinese government system that implements policies from the top down: policy implementation at the local level has a more immediate and apparent impact on everyday life (Chu et al., 2008; Li, 2016). Thus, Wu and Wilkes (2017) summed up that, the evidence about performance suggests that, if Chinese citizens’ trust is reflective of performance, then good performance should increase the inclination towards hierarchical trust. For these reasons, an insightful and all-round analysis of the impact of political trust on people’s life satisfaction in China must also take the effect of hierarchical trust on local residents’ life satisfaction into account. This effect is potentially complex, however, depending on whether life satisfaction is more strongly related to trust in national or trust in local government. But this is an open question that needs to be empirically ascertained. We, therefore, cautiously hypothesize

H3: Effects of local and national political trust on life satisfaction are different.

Empirically, this study focuses on the quality of life in one of China’s rural areas, which are rather distinct from urban areas in socioeconomic development path, lifestyle and cultural traditions. For instance, Yang and Zeng (2016) have found that the development of social trust in China’s urban and rural areas is not synchronized due to the different social networks and institutional environment of urban and rural areas. The rural residents’ trust level is higher than that of their urban compatriots. And it seems that the city is apparently losing its own trust system to regulate people’s behaviour and values while the whole society has the old and new trust system alternating. A rural setting thus appears as a particularly meaningful context to investigate the role of political trust for the quality of life.

Survey, data, and method

Sample and data collection

The analysis of this article is based on a questionnaire survey in five counties in Ya’an Municipality of Sichuan Province in China between November 2014 and December 2016. The municipality was chosen because between 2004 and 2006, one of the authors was Chinese Principal Investigator of a project supported by the municipality and the Danish International Development Agency that carried out an experiment on the direct elections of township government leaders (Dong, 2006; Thørgensen et al., 2008). The aim was to conduct roughly 150 interviews in two townships of each county. When selecting townships, the four that conducted direct elections of township government leaders in mid-2006 were given priority. As two of the four are administered by the Yucheng District, namely Hejiang (population 8305) and Guanhua (population 5539), only one was selected, i.e., the latter. The other two selected were Renyi (population 7035, part of Tianquan County); and Sanhe (population 2427, part of Yingjing County). Seven other townships were selected randomly.

The second step was to randomly select two villages for each town or township. Then, within villages, a list of all the households was obtained, and households were selected using a random sampling procedure. After each household had been identified, the person in the household whose birthday was closest to December 1st was interviewed. If the chosen person could not be interviewed due to the absence from home, outside the age range or having difficulty in communication, another family member was selected in replacement. Therefore, in total 1521 persons were interviewed, of which 1502 completed the questionnaire. During the data clearing stage after input, 29 questionnaires were excluded because either completed by persons younger than 18 years old or completed improperly (such as straight ticking the same numbered choices for many questions consecutively). Their dropping leaves a final data set including 1473 valid questionnaires used for this article.

Variables and analysis

The formulation of survey items draws on the ones used by Ma (2007, 2008). Although focused on respondents’ perceptions of and attitudes towards governments at various levels, the questionnaire also covered the satisfaction of respondents with various aspects of life in their locality.

Positive evaluations of the quality of life refer to the degree to which individuals are satisfied with different aspects of their personal situation. Most surveys ask respondents “how satisfied” they feel with their lives “in general.” It is widely agreed that this simple item performs as well or better than more complex formulations (e.g., Veenhoven, 1993). It has become commonplace to compare mean levels of satisfaction across nations using this indicator (for reviews, see Veenhoven, 1996). Hence, the main dependent variable of our analysis—quality of life—is operationalized by the life satisfaction of respondents (Q1_1 “Generally speaking, are you satisfied with your life?”), and measured on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (“very unsatisfied”) to 5 (“very satisfied”).

The independent variables of interest all relate to respondents’ perception of government quality. To measure perceived output-performance (H1), the questionnaire included a rather comprehensive battery of items measuring respondents’ assessment of their township government’s actions in the nine policy areas already covered by Ma (2007, 2008). More precisely, respondents were asked to indicate how they thought about how well their township government does, on a scale ranging from 1 (“very badly”) to 5 (“very well”), in the following areas:

  • Develop the local economy (Q7-1);

  • Maintain local social order and combating crime (Q7-2);

  • Improve local infrastructure (roads and running water) (Q7-3);

  • Provision of assistance to the socially disadvantaged (elderly, weak, orphans, widows or widowers) (Q7-4);

  • Addressing problems of hygiene and providing medical services (Q7-5);

  • Services to farmers (Q7-6);

  • Improving the conditions and environment for local schools (Q7-10);

  • Protecting the local environment and avoid pollution (Q7-11);

  • Mediating social disputes within families and among neighbours (Q7-13).

As indicated in the literature review, citizens’ assessment of local government performance was often found to be moderated by political trust—referring to the political conditions for the quality of life perceptions by citizens. Political trust thus is our second independent variable of interest. Given the hierarchical nature of political trust in the PRC, i.e., higher levels of trust in national than in local government institutions, we will need to take into account both local and national political trust. More precisely, this was operationalized by respondents’ answers to a general question about their trust in their township government, as well as in the national government (Q37 “What is the degree of trust you give to the following institutions: […] 4. Your town/township government […] 6. CPC Central Committee and central government?”), measured on a four-point scale ranging from 1 (“completely distrust”) to 4 (“very high trust”).

Drawing on the insights from the literature on the individual-level determinants of life satisfaction, two types of control variables will be used. First, to control for respondents’ individual situation, we take into account their satisfaction with their work conditions (Q1_1 “Generally speaking, are you satisfied with your current work”, answers on a five-point scale range from 1 [“very unsatisfied”] to 5 [“very satisfied”]), their family situation (Q1_”Generally speaking, are you satisfied with the situation of your family?” answers on a five-point scale range from 1 [“very unsatisfied”] to 5 [“very satisfied”]), as well as their income situation (three income classes). Second, socio-demographic variables are also included: age and gender.

Method and analysis

Common source bias is a well-known—and much discussed—potential limitation of survey research using individual perception data (see Podsakoff et al., 2003). A crucial issue is bias stemming from social desirability, particularly in an authoritarian context such as the PRC, where respondents might be hesitant to reveal critical positions. Hence, we did not only collect data in anonymous form, but interviewees were also offered two non-response items for each question (‘don’t know’, ‘decline to answer’). Non-responses were thus rather frequent for politically sensitive questions, resulting in large proportions of missing data on these questionnaire items. However, as a missing values analysis has shown (Dong & Kübler, 2018), non-responses in this survey are unlikely to affect statistical relationships between the variables of interest. For an overall assessment of potential common source bias in our data, we used Harman’s One-Factor-Test, consisting in an exploratory factor analysis of dependent and independent perception variables (Podsakoff et al., 2003: 889). The analysis yielded more than one factor (see Table 5 in the Appendix), thereby suggesting common source bias is limited for the perception variables under scrutiny here.

Findings

Perceived quality of life and assessment of local government: descriptive results

Univariate statistics (Table 1) show that respondents seem to be rather satisfied with the quality of their life: the second highest category is also the median, meaning that most respondents feel fairly or very satisfied with their life in general. When asked to assess the action of their town/township government’s performance in a range of policy fields, answers are quite varied. The assessments of local government policies in maintaining social order, improving local infrastructure, as well as primary and secondary schools stand out as being predominantly positive. A principal component analysis for the government performance assessment items extracted only one factor, therefore, suggesting that the assessments of different policies are unidimensional (see Table 6 in the Appendix). Hence, it is admissible to summarize the assessments on these different policy items in one single index, constructed as the mean of valid responses on the different policy assessment items (Table 1).

Table 1 Perceived quality of life and assessment of local government (univariate statistics)

Results on the political trust variables confirm the picture of hierarchical trust in the PRC: the degree of trust in local government is generally lower than trust in the national government. Comparisons of subsample means show that there are significant differences between townships for all items listed in Table 1.

An analysis of bivariate correlations shows, first, that respondents’ satisfaction with their lives is related to their individual situation (Table 2). Socio-demographics are important: individuals’ perceived quality of life increases with age, and women are less satisfied with their life than men. As could be expected, individual life satisfaction overall is positively correlated with the perceived quality of one’s work and family situations, as well as with household income.

Table 2 Perceived quality of life: correlations with individual-level control variables (bivariate Pearson correlations)

Looking at the independent variables of interest, bivariate correlations with perceived quality of life are all statistically significant and go in the expected direction (Table 3). Satisfaction with one’s life is positively correlated with assessment of one’s township government’s actions in the nine policy fields, as well as with the overall assessment index. Similarly, both local and national political trust are positively correlated with life satisfaction—even though the latter less strongly so.

Table 3 Perceived quality of life, assessments of local government performance, as well as control variables (bivariate Pearson correlations)

Determinants of life satisfaction: multivariate results

The robustness of these correlations was tested in a multivariate analysis. Because of the hierarchical structure of the data (respondents are nested in towns/townships), we used multi-level modelling with respondents at level 1 and towns/townships at level 2.Footnote 1

More precisely, we estimated four different models (Table 4). The first model only estimates the influence of socio-demographic and individual-level control variables, i.e., gender, age, household income, as well as the satisfaction with the work and family situation. To these control variables, the second model adds the influence of the overall assessment of the township government’s policy performance, the third model adds the political trust variables (local and national). The fourth model estimates the influence of all control and independent variables simultaneously.

Table 4 Predictors of life satisfaction (linear mixed models)

The results confirm most of the findings from the bivariate analysis. They clearly show that respondents’ life satisfaction is not only influenced by the individual situation of respondents: women are less satisfied, older people are more satisfied, the financial situation of a respondent’s household also has a positive effect, as has satisfaction with the work and family situations. Most importantly for the focus of this article, the results also confirm that life satisfaction is associated with respondents’ perception of the performance of their town/township government, measured by their overall assessment of their township government’s policies. Similarly, the multivariate analysis shows the positive impact of political trust as a mediator variable for satisfaction with life. However, the importance of the hierarchical nature of political trust must be noted: it is only trust in one’s township government that has a significant positive impact, while the degree of trust in the CPC central committee and central government is not significantly associated with life satisfaction. Hence, it is really local government that matters for the way in which residents perceive the quality of their life.

In the full model, however, only the effect of the assessment of one’s township government’s policies remains robust, while the effect of local political trust is explained away. This result is due to the interrelationship between these two variables. Indeed, statistically, the correlation between them is rather substantial (r = 0.548***). And conceptually, it is plausible to assume that government performance shapes citizen well-being, which in turn shapes political trust. This again buttresses the importance of local government for citizens’ life.

Conclusion

The results of this analysis show that not only the personal situation and the local environment, but also government’s actions of one’s town/township of residence, as well as political trust are relevant for the individual quality of life—thereby corroborating hypotheses H1 and H2. While this result is intuitively plausible, it is significant in that it emphasises the importance of political conditions for individual quality of life. Indeed, the performance of local governments can differ across localities due to a broad range of factors: resources, expertise, efficient organisation, but also administrative and governmental values and attitudes are highly variable ingredients for local governmental performance. Hence, if the goal is to increase citizens’ quality of life, it is important to strive towards well-functioning local government. In the Chinese context, this result is significant for an additional reason. In Western countries, research on the quality of life has shown that democracy is an important predictor of life satisfaction: in contexts with extensive democratic right, citizens tend to be more satisfied with their lives (see for instance Frey & Stutzer, 2000). In the Western context, this finding is usually viewed as pointing towards the importance of legitimacy of the political order for the quality of life in a country—conceived above all in terms of input-legitimacy. In the Chinese context, our findings confirm that legitimacy of the political order also plays a role for citizens’ quality of life, but that, in the absence of democratic institutions, this needs to be conceived essentially in terms of output-legitimacy, i.e., governmental performance.

Moreover, the results of the analysis also show that if political trust is important for satisfaction with life, this is predominantly an effect of trust in local government. Trust in national government, in contrast, seems largely unrelated to life satisfaction. This result strongly differs from findings of studies in Western countries, which have generally not found differences in trust-effects depending on the level of political authorities (local vs. national). The hierarchical nature of political trust in China thus leads to a situation where citizens’ perception of their quality of life more strongly depends on their assessment of the local rather than the national government.

Our study has limitations, of course. On the one hand, while our results buttress the importance of both local governmental performance and political trust for citizens’ quality of life, we were not able to disentangle the relationship between the two. Further studies are thus needed to investigate this relationship more thoroughly, and, in particular, clarify the question if it is perceived governmental performance that fosters political trust or rather the other way round. On the other hand, while we argued that it is limited in our study, the issue of common source bias cannot be completely excluded. To buttress the validity of our findings, it would, therefore, be desirable that future studies combine a variety of data sources to measure variables of interest, particularly those that are not a priori perceptional, such as government performance.

Availability of data and material

Data are available on request.

Code availability

SPSS.

Notes

  1. Indeed, analysis of intra-class correlations shows that 19.7% of the variance of the dependent variable is explained at the town level—multi-level modelling is therefore warranted. Because of the relative small number of 10 towns/townships, restricted maximum likelihood estimation is used as recommended by Steenbergen and Jones (2002).

References

  • Andrejovský, P., Gajdoš, J., Hajduová, Z., & Andrejkovič, M. (2012). Ecologisation of social development and quality. In 12th International multidisciplinary scientific geoconference SGEM 2012 (pp. 307–312). Bulgaria: Albena.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baiden, P., Arku, G., Luginaah, I., & Asiedu, A. B. (2011). An assessment of residents’ housing satisfaction and coping in Accra, Ghana. Journal of Public Health, 19(1), 29–37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10389-010-0348-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beslerová, S., & Dzuričková, J. (2014). Quality of life measurements in EU countries, Enterprise and the Competitive Environment 2014 conference, ECE 2014, 6–7 March 2014, Brno, Czech Republic. Procedia Economics and Finance, 12(2014), 37–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bjørnskov, C., Dreher, A., & Fischer, J. A. V. (2008). Cross-country determinants of life satisfaction: Exploring different determinants across groups in society. Social Choice Welfare, 30, 119–173. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00355-007-0225-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chu, Y., Bratton, M., Lagos, M., Shastri, S., & Tessler, M. (2008). Public opinion and democratic legitimacy. Journal of Democracy, 19(2), 74–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clench-Aas, J., & Holte, A. (2021). Political trust influences the relationship between income and life satisfaction in Europe: Differential associations with trust at national, community, and individual level. Frontiers in Public Health, 9, 629118. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2021.629118

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Diaz-Serrano, L. (2009). Disentangling the housing satisfaction puzzle: Does homeownership really matter? Journal of Economic Psychology, 30(5), 745–755. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2009.06.006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dong, L. (2006). Direct township elections in China: Latest developments and prospects. Journal of Contemporary China, 15(48), 503–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dong, L., & Kübler, D. (2018). Sources of local political trust in rural China. Journal of Contemporary China, 27(110), 193–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dunn, J. R. (2002). Housing and inequality in health: A study of socioeconomic dimensions of housing and self-reported health from a survey of Vancouver. Journal of Epidemical Community Health, 56(9), 671–681. https://doi.org/10.1136/jech.56.9.671

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ekici, T., & Koydemir, S. (2014). Social capital, government and democracy satisfaction, and happiness in Turkey: A comparison of surveys in 1999 and 2008. Social Indicators Research, 118(3), 1031–1053.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2000). Happiness, economics and institutions. The Economic Journal, 110, 918–938.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fu, X. (2018). The contextual effects of political trust on happiness: Evidence from China. Social Indicators Research, 139, 491–516. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-017-1721-2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hagerty, M. R., Cummins, R. A., Ferriss, A. L., Land, K., Michalos, A. C., Peterson, M., Sharpe, A., Sirgy, J., & Vogel, J. (2001). Quality of life indexes for national policy: review and agenda for research. Social Indicators Research, 55, 1–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hajduová, Z., Andrejovský, P., Gajdoš, J., & Andrejkovič, M. (2011). Kvalita života a životné prostredie. Journal of Innovations and Applied Statistics, 1, 37–42.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hudson, J. (2006). Institutional trust and subjective well-being across the EU. Kyklos, 59(1), 43–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • ISOQL. (2008). WHOQOL: Measuring Quality of Life. World Health Organization. Retrieved November 11, 2021.

  • Kampen, J. K., Maddens, B., & Vermunt, J. (2003). Trust and satisfaction: A case-study of the micro-performance theory. In A. Salminen (Ed.), Governing networks (pp. 319–326). IOS.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kampen, J. K., Van De Walle, S., & Bouckaert, G. (2006). Assessing the relation between satisfaction with public service delivery and trust in Government. The impact of the predisposition of citizens toward Government on evalutations of its performance. Public Performance & Management Review, 29(4), 387–404. https://doi.org/10.1080/15309576.2006.11051881

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Knopman, D., Zmud, J., Ecola, L., Zhimin, M., & Crane, K. (2015). Quality of life indicators and policy strategies to advance sustainability in the Pearl River Delta. RAND Corporation.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lewis-Beck, M. S., Tang, W., & Martini, N. F. (2014). A Chinese popularity function sources of Government support. Political Research Quarterly, 67(1), 16–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Li, L. (2004). Political trust in rural China. Modern China, 30(2), 228–258.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Li, L. (2013). The magnitude and resilience of trust in the center: Evidence from interviews with petitioners in Beijing and a local survey in rural China. Modern China, 39(3), 3–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Li, L. (2016). Reassessing trust in the central Government: Evidence from five national surveys. The China Quarterly, 225(3), 100–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liang, Y. (2016). Trust in Chinese government and quality of life (QOL) of Sichuan Earthquake survivors: Does trust in government help to promote QOL? Social Indicators Research, 127(2), 541–564.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Loveless, T. (1997). The structure of public confidence in education. American Journal of Education, 105(2), 127–159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ma, D. (2007). 政治信任及其起源—对亚洲8个国家和地区的比较研” [Political trust and its origin: A comparative study of eight Asian countries or regions]. 《经济社会比较》 [Comparative Economic and Social Systems], 5, 79–86.

  • Ma, D. (2008). 信任、信任的起源与信任的变迁 [Trust, its origin and transformation]. 《开放时代》 [Opening Times], 4, 72–86.

  • Mishler, M., & Rose, R. (1997). Trust, distrust and skepticism: Popular evaluations of civil and political institutions in post-communist societies. The Journal of Politics, 59(2), 418–451.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Møller, V. (2001). Monitoring quality of life in cities: The Durban case. Development Southern Africa, 18(2), 217–238.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morais, P., Miguéis, V. L., & Camanho, A. S. (2011). Quality of life experienced by human capital: An assessment of European cities. Social Indicators Research. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-011-9923-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mueller, G. P. (2009). Trust and life satisfaction in Eastern and Western Europe. In Quality of life and the millennium challenge (pp. 161–176). Springer, Dordrecht.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Newton, K. (2001). Trust, social capital, civil society, and democracy. International Political Science Review, 22(2), 201–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Newton, K., & Norris, P. (2000). Confidence in public institutions: Faith, culture, or performance? In S. Pharr & R. Putnam (Eds.), Disaffected democracies. Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pacione, M. (2003). Urban environmental quality and human wellbeing—A social geographical perspective. Landscape and Urban Planning, 65(1–2), 19–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0169-2046(02)00234-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pattie, C., Seyd, P., & Whiteley, P. (2004). Citizenship in Britain: Values, participation and democracy. Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Lee, J.-Y., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 879–903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Radcliff, B. (2001). Politics, markets, and life satisfaction: The political economy of human happiness. American Political Science Review, 95(4), 939–952.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saich, T. (2007). Citizens’ perceptions of governance in rural and urban China. Journal of Chinese Political Science, 12(1), 1–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shu, X., & Zhu, Y. (2009). The quality of life in China. Social Indicators Research, 92(2), 191–225.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith, S. J., Easterlow, D., Munro, M., & Turner, K. T. (2003). Housing as health capital: How health trajectories and housing paths are linked. Journal of Social Issues, 59(3), 501–525. https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-4560.00075

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steenbergen, M. R., & Jones, B. S. (2002). Modeling multilevel data structures. American Journal of Political Science, 46(1), 218–237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stipak, B. (1979). Citizen satisfaction with urban services: Potential misuse as a performance indicator. Public Administration Review, 39(1), 46–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thørgensen, S., Elklit, J., & Dong, L. (2008). Consultative elections of Chinese township leaders—Report from a recent experiment in Ya’an, Sichuan. China Information, XXII(1), 67–89.

    Google Scholar 

  • Uslaner, E. M. (2002). The moral foundations of trust. Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Van de Walle, S., Kampen, J. K., & Bouckaert, G. (2005). Deep impact for high-impact agencies? Assessing the role of bureaucratic encounters in evaluations of government. Public Performance & Management Review, 28(4), 532–549.

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Ryzin, G. G., Muzzio, D., & Immerwahr, S. (2004). Drivers and consequences of citizen satisfaction: An application of the American Customer Satisfaction Index model to New York City. Public Administration Review, 64(3), 331–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Veenhoven, R. (1993). Happiness in nations. Risbo.

    Google Scholar 

  • Veenhoven, R. (1996). Developments in satisfaction research. Social Indicators Research, 37, 1–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whiteley, P., Clarke, H. D., Sanders, D., & Stewart, M. C. (2010). Government performance and life satisfaction in contemporary Britain. The Journal of Politics, 72(3), 733–746.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wu, C., & Wilkes, R. (2017). Local–national political trust patterns: Why China is an exception. International Political Science Review, 39, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192512116677587

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yang, G., & Zeng, S. (2016). The comparison of trust structure between urban and rural residents in China. American Journal of Industrial and Business Management, 6(5), 665–673. https://doi.org/10.4236/ajibm.2016.65062

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The research for this article is supported by the Investigation into China’s National Conditions Programme (Institute-level), the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (2014–2017). Mr. Chen Ziruan, then Party Secretary of Tianfeng Township, Yingjing County facilitated support of Ya’an Municipality to this survey. Professor Shan Guoyan of Sichuan Agricultural University led her students at the Department of Sociology for assisting the administration of the survey. Dong would like to thank the Department of Political Science, University of Zurich for hosting him from September 2020 to August 2021, when this article is finalized. A previous version of this article was presented at the colloquium ‘Housing in Urban China’, organised by the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics, Sciences Po Paris (June 13th to 15th 2019). The authors would like to thank participants for helpful comments and feedback.

Funding

The research for this article was supported by the Investigation into China’s National Conditions Programme (Institute-level), the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (2014–2017).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

LD designed and administered the questionnaire survey and wrote the literature review and theoretical parts of the article; DK made data analysis and drafted and revised the article.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lisheng Dong.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

No conflicts of interest.

Additional declarations for articles in life science journals that report the results of studies involving humans and/or animals

Not applicable.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 5 and 6.

Table 5 Perceptional independent, dependent and control variables: factor analysis (PCA)
Table 6 Assessment of local government policies: factor analysis (PCA)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Dong, L., Kübler, D. Government performance, political trust, and citizen subjective well-being: evidence from rural China. GPPG 1, 383–400 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43508-021-00024-9

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s43508-021-00024-9

Keywords

  • Quality of life
  • Perception of local government
  • Survey
  • China