Goals of This Exercise
- Examine the relationship between trust in government and individuals’ political goals; specifically, to explore the notion of partisan trust.
- Provide empirical evidence of declining trust in government and the potential differences among partisans depending upon which party controls the government at a given time.
- Explore the various motivations of citizens and political elites to both enhance public trust in government as well as contribute to public distrust in government.
Trust in Government
The concept of moral trust refers to the trust in government that exists generally as a component of the values of a community; it is chiefly a product of socialization.
By contrast, rational trust situates trust in government in the individual who calculates a running tally of encounters with government and decides on an ongoing basis whether it is rational to continue to trust the government.
Political Goals and Political Trust
Perhaps people trust in instrumental ways as well. Following the concept of rational trust, we can understand citizens’ trust in government as a result of their political goals and their concluding views of what constitutes appropriate use of government power and influence.
Partisan trust posits that Republican and Democratic voters are more likely to trust the government if (and to the extent that) their party controls the government. That is, Republican voters are more likely to trust a Republican-controlled government just as Democrats are more likely to trust a Democratic-controlled government. In important ways, partisan trust can be considered a subset of rational trust with partisan goals the predominant factor in evaluating the government.
Who Trusts Government?
The question of moral trust in government has changed over time. Although overall citizens’ trust in government declined considerably in the second half of the twentieth century, there has also been variation in the levels of government trust that liberals and conservatives exhibit.
In the 1960s, for example, liberals as well as the radical left were more likely to register distrust in government over the intrusiveness of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other intelligence agencies as well as U.S. military and foreign policy (most notably, Vietnam).
By the same token, distrust in “big government” and its threats to liberty and the market economy were key elements of the conservative movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
Examining the Rationality Principle
The Rationality Principle: all political behavior has a purpose. Political actors engage in instrumental acts to achieve their goals.