Social Trust and Electoral Populism: Explaining the Quality of Government

28 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2019

See all articles by Philip Keefer

Philip Keefer

Inter-American Development Bank

Carlos Scartascini

Research Department - Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)

Razvan Vlaicu

Inter-American Development Bank; University of Maryland

Date Written: September 28, 2019

Abstract

Voters would be better off if they removed politicians offering low-quality government by pursuing populist policies and re-elected those who improved government quality with sustainable policies. In many political contexts, including those with free and fair elections, voters do the opposite. Low social trust can account for this paradox: voters must act collectively to shape political incentives, but low trust among voters is an obstacle to collective action. If every voter believes that fellow voters will accept particularistic benefits from poorly performing governments that keep them from voting against those governments, no voter has an incentive to select politicians who promise high-quality government. By the same logic, low social trust prevents voters from sanctioning politicians who renege on their promises. Frequent reneging on campaign promises, in turn, leads voters to hold low political trust. Low quality government, and in particular populism, emerge as optimal electoral strategies of political candidates in this environment. We analyze new survey data from 6,040 respondents in seven Latin American countries that provides support for a novel argument about populism and the quality of government: voters who express low trust are significantly more likely to prefer populist candidates and policies that reflect a low quality of government.

Keywords: trust, collective action, populism, quality of government

JEL Classification: D72, H41

Suggested Citation

Keefer, Philip and Scartascini, Carlos G. and Vlaicu, Razvan, Social Trust and Electoral Populism: Explaining the Quality of Government (September 28, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3460914 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3460914

Philip Keefer

Inter-American Development Bank ( email )

1300 New York Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20577
United States
202-623-1961 (Phone)

Carlos G. Scartascini

Research Department - Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) ( email )

1300 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20577
United States
2026231963 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.cscartascini.org

Razvan Vlaicu (Contact Author)

Inter-American Development Bank ( email )

1300 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20577
United States

University of Maryland ( email )

3114 Tydings Hall
College Park, MD 20742
United States

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