How people trust their governments: Trends, patterns and determinants of trust differentiation in multilevel polities

Dominika K. Proszowska

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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Few studies have explored how people trust their governments in a multilevel governance context. Meanwhile, virtually any contemporary democratic governance around the world includes elements of multilevel power sharing. The main contribution of this dissertation is to provide a theoretically grounded empirical analysis of the implications of this institutional context for the way citizens think and feel about their representatives at different levels of governance, and how it is reflected in their political trust attitudes. This thesis therefore asks:
To what extent, how and why do people differentiate in their political trust attitudes between executive branches of government at local, national and EU levels of governance?
This dissertation starts with an introductory chapter, outlining the research questions and presenting the literature review. The subsequent four empirical chapters are divided into two parts. Part I presents two exploratory studies into trends and patterns of differentiation of political trust (with a focus on trust in the executive branch of government):
Chapter 2 is a longitudinal investigation of (a) the trends and magnitudes of fluctuations of political trust (b) at three levels of governance (subnational, national and EU) (c) in 28 EU countries in the decade following the onset of the Great Recession (2008-2019);
Chapter 3 uses Dutch survey data to explore cross-sectional (in)dependencies of trust in government at local, national and EU levels. It proposes four theoretical-empirical models of trust differentiation and subsequently tests their prevalence within the population-at-large and across subpopulations of respondents with different levels of political sophistication.
Building on the theoretical and empirical insights of Part I, the chapters in Part II of this dissertation deal with determinants of trust differentiation in multilevel polities:
Chapter 4 uses data from the Netherlands to investigate the role of political factors in trust differentiation across three levels of governance;
Chapter 5 is a two-country study of Poland and the Netherlands, which focuses on one of the political factors introduced in Chapter 4: the home-team factor – and explores whether its role in trust differentiation may be contingent upon the institutional and political context in which it appears.
Chapter 6 summarizes the key findings, presents an overview of the dissertation’s theoretical, methodological, and practical contributions, discusses its limitations, and outlines directions for future research.
In combination the findings presented in chapters 2-5 show that notwithstanding the complexities of contemporary multilevel governance, political trust to a considerable extent is object-specific and based on a differentiated evaluation of politically relevant factors (i.e., it is a “warranted trust”).
From a scientific perspective this thesis is important because it develops an approach that allows to get a better understanding of how people trust their political representatives embedded in complex multilevel polities. This approach is based on a theoretically founded systematic empirical investigation of trends, patterns and determinants of political trust.
In doing so, this dissertation determines to what extent people formulate meaningful and separate trust judgments of different trust objects (here: governments at local, national and EU levels), and to what extent these judgments are interrelated. It concludes that trust in executive governments at different levels of government is not based on generalized (“blind”) trust, but is a more or less object-specific political orientation reflecting citizens evaluations of specific political institutions (e.g., the executive government at a particular level of governance). These findings are important not only to the field of political trust research. They are also relevant to the larger field of studies concerned with legitimacy of political systems and citizens’ support for democratic government.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Denters, Bas , Supervisor
  • Lord, Chris, Supervisor, External person
  • Jansen, Giedo, Co-Supervisor
Award date1 Sept 2021
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-5225-7
Electronic ISBNs978-90-365-5225-7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • political trust
  • institutional trust
  • political confidence
  • EU
  • multilevel governance
  • legitimacy
  • democracy


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