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Procedural fairness and political trust among young people: Evidence from a panel study on Swedish high school students

Abstract

The role of ‘fair’ institutions in developing democratic legitimacy has received increased attention. Citizens who perceive – on basis of past experiences – that they are being treated fairly by authorities have been held to have greater trust in political institutions. However, previous studies on the relationship between procedural fairness and political trust have not paid sufficient attention to individuals with limited first-hand experiences of authorities. We examine the relationship on an authority that virtually all individuals meet early in life: the school. Using structural equation modeling on unique panel data covering 1500 Swedish adolescents (ages ranging from 13 to 17), we find a reciprocal relationship: personal encounters with school authorities shape young people’s political trust; however, the images that adolescents get of the political system (through family, peers, media and so on) have also consequences on their perceptions about the authorities they encounter in their daily lives. The analysis increases our understanding of how individuals form their political allegiances by showing that the relationship between fairness and trust is more dynamic than has previously been suggested: neither an accumulated set of experiences of authorities nor formal ties with political institutions (as voters and so on) are required for a relationship to emerge.

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Figure 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The Swedish education system includes several schooling and educations types, which are adapted for different ages and people with different needs and abilities. The data used in the study come from the compulsory school (junior high school) and upper secondary school (senior high school). The compulsory school consists of nine schools years and attendance is compulsory for all children from the age of 7. The upper secondary school, by contrast, consists of 3 years of schooling and is a voluntary school, which youths who have completed the compulsory school can choose to attend (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2014).

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Acknowledgements

This study was made possible by access to data from the Political Socialization Program, a longitudinal research program at YeS (Youth & Society) at Örebro University, Sweden. Responsible for the planning, implementation and financing of the collection of data in this project were Professors Erik Amnå, Mats Ekström, Margaret Kerr and Håkan Stattin. The data collection was supported by grants from the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation. Moreover, the participation of Pär Zetterberg in the writing of this study was made possible by a grant from the Swedish Research Council. Finally, we would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions

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Appendices

Appendix A

Table A1

Table A1 Correlations between the analyzed variables

Appendix B

Table B1

Table B1 Means, standard deviations and results from a logistic regression with adolescent attrition (from T1 to T2) as dependent variable

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Abdelzadeh, A., Zetterberg, P. & Ekman, J. Procedural fairness and political trust among young people: Evidence from a panel study on Swedish high school students. Acta Polit 50, 253–278 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/ap.2014.22

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Keywords

  • procedural fairness
  • political trust
  • reciprocal
  • school
  • adolescents
  • structural equation modeling