A Palliative for Those Who Feel Left Behind? Political Trust in the Face of Economic Inequality
34 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2017 Last revised: 20 Nov 2019
Date Written: November 18, 2019
Do those who feel left behind express more distrust of politics? Or does political trust serve as a palliative as the disadvantaged become more trusting? We argue that the relationship between social status and political trust depends on the context of economic inequality. Whereas in contexts of low inequality self-interest based mechanisms are most likely to appear, in highly unequal countries the need for cognitive dissonance reduction becomes greater. The latter mechanism results in rationalization of the deprived situation by expressing more political trust. We test this claim with comprehensive analyses of World Values Surveys data from a diverse sample of countries. The empirical results support our argumentation: In equal countries perceived affiliation to a higher social class is positively associated with political trust, while this is not true in unequal countries. This finding has important implications for our understanding of political trust and for successfully dealing with economic inequality.
Keywords: Inequality, Political trust, Social status, Social class, System justification
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