Trust in the Public Sector: Is There Any Evidence for a Long-Term Decline?

International Review of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 74, No. 1, pp. 45-62, 2008

36 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2008

See all articles by Steven Van de Walle

Steven Van de Walle

KU Leuven - Department of Political Science; Erasmus University Rotterdam - Department of Public Administration

Steven Van Roosbroek

KU Leuven

Geert Bouckaert

KU Leuven

Date Written: March 3, 2008

Abstract

Concerns with declining public trust in government have become a permanent element of the contemporary political discourse. This concern also extends to levels of citizens' trust in the public administration and public services. Trust is said to be declining, and this decline is generally seen as detrimental to public service delivery. In this article, we examine the main elements in this discussion, review the existing international survey data and summarise the main findings for OECD countries. Citizens' trust in the public sector is found to fluctuate, and the data generally do not show consistently declining levels of trust. Furthermore, in some countries there simply is insufficient data to come to any conclusions at all about time trends in citizen trust in the public sector.

Points for practitioners: This article summarises some of the survey material on citizens' trust in the public administration. It allows practitioners to compare trends in public trust in their country across time and space. The findings lead us to reject the hypothesis of a universal decline of trust in the public sector. The article warns against using opinion poll results without considering context. The long-term and comparative perspective on citizens' trust in the public sector is all too often absent from the policy discourse that is frequently based on assumptions and ad-hoc approaches.

Keywords: public opinion, comparative public administration, citizen-government relations, trust in government

JEL Classification: D73

Suggested Citation

Van de Walle, Steven and Van Roosbroek, Steven and Bouckaert, Geert, Trust in the Public Sector: Is There Any Evidence for a Long-Term Decline? (March 3, 2008). International Review of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 74, No. 1, pp. 45-62, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1307669

Steven Van de Walle (Contact Author)

KU Leuven - Department of Political Science ( email )

Public Management Institute
Van Evenstraat 2A
B-3000 Leuven
Belgium
+32 16 323614 (Phone)
+32 16 323611 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.publicmanagementinstitute.be

Erasmus University Rotterdam - Department of Public Administration ( email )

3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands
0031 10 408 2518 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.stevenvandewalle.eu

Steven Van Roosbroek

KU Leuven ( email )

Oude Markt 13
Leuven, Vlaams-Brabant 3000
Belgium

Geert Bouckaert

KU Leuven ( email )

Oude Markt 13
Leuven, 3000
Belgium

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