No. 30




Public Trust towards National Parliaments in European Countries *

  • Andres Reiljan

    Winner of August Rei Scholarship in Parliamentary Studies in 2013

The aim of this article was to determine which variables and to what extent influence people’s trust towards national parliaments. I concentrated on parliament, as it is perceived as a central political institution, a cornerstone and a symbol of democracy. Thus, attitudes towards parliament should indicate the general legitimacy of the political system.

I took a multidimensional perspective towards political trust, considering it to be a result of an interplay between individual and system level, as well as exogenous and endogenous (in relation to political system) variables.

Individual evaluations of regime perfomance are placed in the centre of the theoretical model for explaining trust in parliament constructed in the article, expecting them to mediate the effect of system level variables and exogenous individual level variables.

In the empirical analysis I used up-to-date data from 26 democratic European countries, collected in 2012 to 2013 by Europen Social Survey. Also, macro indicators of regime performance are used.

Empirical results confirm that trust towards parliaments is higher in countries where the living standard is higher and which are perceived to be less corrupt. Problems with fiscal discipline have a negative effect on trust, starting from a certain threshold. GDP per capita, corruption perception index and a dummy variable for countries that have had an international bailout altogether explain 85% of the variance of average trust scores among countries.

At the individual level, results indicate that people with higher education and higher satisfaction with their household income, who are interested in politics and prioritize democracy highly, support government parties and are satisfied with the political and economic performance of the regime have higher trust towards parliament.

Dominant variable in the model is satisfaction with the economic situation in the country. The unique effect of it is more than three times the size of any other variable. Thus, I also studied which variables determine satisfaction with the regime’s economic performance. I found that it was very strongly related to country level variables, as more than one third of the variation among individuals is attributable to country level. Also, people who are not coping with their present income perceive state economy as being in worse shape. It is noteworthy that if egocentric and sociotropic economic evaluations are included in the same model to explain individual trust towards parliament, the former loses almost all of its effect. It is clear that there is a big overlap between the effect of these two variables on institutional trust. Thus, it is shown that sociotropic economic perceptions mediate the effect of objective regime performance and also individual living conditions, giving empirical support to the theoretical model presented in the article.

Running the individual level model separately with Estonian data, results generally match the pan-European tendencies, with one imporant exception: in Estonia, people who belong to ethnic minorities show significantly less trust towards parliament.

*Peer reviewed research paper.

Full article in Estonian