Stemming the trend of declining trust

People in train station

In 2014, a year of European elections, much has been written on the disengagement of voters and the eroding of trust in institutions. Findings from Eurofound’s quality-of-life research, as recently published in its Yearbook: Living and working in Europe 2013, shed a surprising light on this seemingly most intractable of civic problems.

Decline of trust across EU

Trust in political institutions has been a casualty of the economic crisis. Public trust in the EU has been on a notable slide since 2010, as the crisis began to have a real adverse effect on people’s lives. Trust in national governments and parliaments across the EU as a whole is even lower. What influences trust in public institutions? The question is worth exploring as understanding what bolsters trust – or undermines it – is a starting point in providing policymakers with the information to enable them to reverse the erosion of trust at both national and European level. Through its pan-European Quality of Life Survey, Eurofound asked Europeans about their level of trust in a number of national public institutions – the parliament, legal system, police, press, government and local authorities. In-depth analysis then looked at how certain factors (or variables) affected people’s level of trust in these institutions. 

Role of public services

A key factor leading to greater trust on the part of citizens is, unsurprisingly, a perceived absence of corruption in public life. As might also be expected, how citizens perceive the economic situation in their country is also important, supporting the view that the economic difficulties since 2008 have been a major contributor to an overall decline in levels of trust. However, the number one factor in shaping how much people trust their country’s institutions is their level of satisfaction with the quality of public services.


Figure: Determinants of trust in public institutions

Graph indicating that key determinant of trust in public institutions is the perceived quality of public services

A one-point increase in people’s satisfaction with public services raises their overall rating in trust in public institutions from 4.85 (out of 10) to 5.22. This suggests that if EU and national policy packages are successful in promoting public service delivery in ways that are recognised and appreciated by the public they may have the added, and considerable, benefit of boosting levels of trust. This also implies the need for more thorough and broader monitoring of the performance of public services.

Further reading

Eurofound's latest Yearbook gives a full update on the Agency's findings from 2013.

The full analysis of the EQLS' findings on trust is available in the policy brief Political trust and civic engagement during the crisis.

And you can explore the EQLS' findings on trust in Europe's national institutions through the interactive, online Survey Mapping Tool.

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