people trust authoritarian governments most

(Philadelphia) This Edelman international poll shows that trust in government is low in most countries and declining almost everywhere. But five important countries stand out as exceptions. People trust the world’s largest single-party state, an absolute monarchy, a country in which one party has governed since 1959, a democracy with a very strong elected leader whom critics call authoritarian–and Indonesia, where a government chosen recently in a competitive election actually seems to be trusted.

I arrived at this graph from a piece by Ethan Zuckerman, who notes, “Depressingly, there is a discernible, if weak, correlation (R2=0.162) between more open societies and low scores on Edelman’s trust metric.”

I don’t think we have long-term historical data on this question, but the pattern that Ethan notes is what I would imagine for the 1930s, when the European democracies were fraying and authoritarianism was on the rise. I didn’t expect to see it in my lifetime.

Note also that the US actually scores above the OECD democracies on trust in government, surpassing states that (in my opinion) are governed in a more trustworthy fashion. This chart indicates that we can’t explain distrust in the USA by focusing on specifically American traits, events, or leaders: the pattern is global.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.

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  • Ghost Dansing

    This made me think of Hanna Arendt. “There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking it-self is dangerous.” And “The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.” We might not have historical “data”, but we have history, and it does rhyme. Trust should always be qualified. Trust to do what? Some will trust the government to ensure all women wear head scarves, or all black people drink from separate fountains. In these cases, we trust the government to oppress those people we wish oppressed. Some people think that Liberal Democratic governance is oppressive and distrust it, due to public policy that is egalitarian and not in alignment with their desire to persecute others, or maybe they just desire more homogeneity in their daily lives… a good gate on their community. They distrust the government and feel oppressed and persecuted by concepts of diversity or fairness, and would much more trust a government that keeps “those people” in their place. Trust should be qualified. The nature of the trust should be made explicit by characterizing the culture in which it emerges. I just thought of a good Grateful Dead lyric, but my square is certainly full by now.

  • JanetLRD

    No, I didn’t expect to see this in my lifetime, either. For me, now the question is, is there something that can be done about it, or is this the forces of history (paraphrasing Hegel)? For myself, I think the latter to be too fatalistic.