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The University of Southampton

Understanding trust and trustworthiness in national and global governance

Published: 1 March 2019
TrustGov aims to address a number of issues including what drives public trust in governance.

We live in an era of tribal trust. Many countries have become sharply polarized, trusting ‘Us’ but not ‘Them’.

Cynics have lost all faith in democratic governance. Naïve followers place their fate in hands of corrupt demagogues and charlatans. The democratic ideal of critical citizens who ‘trust but verify’ has eroded.

To understand these problems, and what can be done to strengthen critical citizens, the three-year TrustGov project has been launched by the University of Southampton and Harvard University, generous supported by a £1.3 million award by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ES/S009809/1). Research will investigate ‘Trust and Trustworthiness in National and Global Governance’.

TrustGov plans to advance new theories and evidence from countries worldwide designed to addresses three issues:

  • What drives public trust in governance around the world? In particular, does performance or procedural legitimacy matter, what is the role of communications in this process, and does place matter?
  • Under what conditions do critical citizens seek to ‘trust but verify’?
  • And what can be done to strengthen the optimal level of trust?

The project will combine multiple methods and data to map public confidence in national governments, as well as in agencies like the EU, UN, World Bank and IMF, using global evidence covering authoritarian and democratic states.

The TrustGov Project is led by an experienced team of internationally-known scholars in the UK, Australia and U.S.: Professor Will Jennings (University of Southampton), Professor Pippa Norris (Harvard University and the University of Sydney), and Professor Gerry Stoker (University of Southampton and the University of Canberra).

Professor Will Jennings said: “Many say that politics is broken. The erosion of political trust in national and global institutions poses a major challenge to many states and to the global order. Our project will explore how and when citizens’ trust in political institutions reflects their actual performance – and what leads citizens to be cynical or naïve in their beliefs. It will also investigate how trust differs between places – within countries – in particular the degree to which citizens in outlying towns and rural areas are more distrusting of political elites.”

Professor Pippa Norris said: “This is a timely issue addressing global concern about the decline of liberal democracy and resurgent support for authoritarian leaders.”

Professor Gerry Stoker said: “Our work will hopefully help citizens concerned about the state of politics think about how we might change it for the better”.

Professor Alison Park, Director of Research at ESRC said: “ESRC is pleased to be funding this important research on trust in agencies of national and global governance. There is widespread concern about the growing levels of distrust in politicians and the political process, and their implications. This novel and exciting research will improve our understanding of how trust in different bodies relates to performance, how this varies across countries and different types of political regime, and what might help to strengthen trust".

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