No. 6




Social Capital, Perceptions of Influence with Political Institutions and Trust in Institutions of Power

17 December 2002


RiTo No. 6, 2002

  • Tõnis Saarts

    Tõnis Saarts

    Tallinn University, Lecturer of Political Science

The purpose of the analysis was to examine the extent to which Estonians and non-Estonians’ trust in political institutions on the local and national level is influenced by social capital and the perception that various political institutions are open to influence.

Many theoreticians have made the connection between social capital and trust in political institutions, such as Francis Fukuyama and R. Putnam. According to Putnam, people who believe they are capable of influencing political structures trust them more.

Since integration is a very important keyword in Estonia’s case as is the political aspect, the analysis focused on to national aspects.

Two hypotheses were made.

I: Non-Estonians with more social capital have more trust in the central government and local institutions. The same holds for Estonians.

II: Non-Estonians who feel they can influence local bodies more, trust local institutions more. The same holds for Estonians.

To test the hypotheses, trust in political institutions was used as a dependent variable (trust in local and central government was looked at separately). The independent variable was social capital, which was taken as trust in another individual, regardless of any membership in any civic organizations. In the case of the second hypothesis, the independent variable was the perception of the ability to influence power institutions.

The results showed that non-Estonians with more social capital trust local and central government institutions more than those with less social capital. No correlation between social capital and trust in local and central institutions emerged in the case of Estonians.

In examining the connections between the trustworthiness of local institutions and perception of susceptibility to influence, it emerged that Estonians who believe they can influence local institutions trust them more as well. No correlation emerged in the case of non-Estonians.

The main conclusion that the analysis afforded was that ethnic origin had a significant large effect on the correlations studied. This in turn leads to the conclusion that various political and social strategies and models of inclusion could be used to increase both Estonians’ and non-Estonians’ trust in institutions. In the case of Estonians, conventional strategies and models seem to have more potential. This model stresses the role of effective local government and of including people in the decision-making process and favoring direct communication with national government. In the case of non-Estonians, a model based on civic associations seems more suitable, stressing the role of civic association and congregation in increasing participation in the political process and trust in institutions.

The recommendation that different strategies be used on the two ethnic groups should be taken as a generalization, however, pending closer and more intensive analysis.

It is clear, though, that the ethnic aspect should not be underestimated in discussing the issue of trust in institutions.

Full article in Estonian