The Poorer You Are, the More You Trust? The Effect of Inequality and Income on Institutional Trust in East-Central Europe
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Compared to Western Europe, the new democracies of East-Central Europe (ECE) demonstrate substantially lower levels of institutional trust. Because trust in state institutions is an indicator of the public approval and legitimacy of a political system, low trust levels are a cause for concern. The paper addresses a particular aspect of this broad issue by focusing on how country-level wealth and inequality and individual-level economic situation and sociotropic evaluations affect institutional trust in ECE in comparison with Western Europe. A multi-level analysis performed on the 2010 European Social Survey dataset reveals that substantial differences exist between the two sides of the continent. While sociotropic measures show a uniformly strong, positive association with institutional trust, the marginal effect of relative income is positive in Western but negative in East-Central Europe. Moreover, although social inequality is inversely related to institutional trust, four ECE countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia), where relatively low inequality is accompanied by low levels of institutional trust, deviate from the general trend. The paper suggests that the causes of these differences may be attributed to the interplay between specific characteristics of ECE political economies and the strongly egalitarian attitudes of East-Central European citizens.
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