About this Research Topic
Long before the populist wave of the last decade, the election of leaders like Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson, and economic shock-waves like the global financial crash, academics and political commentators alike were concerned with the gradual yet steady decline of political trust in global democracies. As a concept and as political capital, trust has been placed at the heart of commentaries on social cohesion as well as studies of economic growth and financial development, devolution and decision-making, political stability and government performance, and even subjective well-being. It is, then, one of the most valuable psychological lubricants for societal and international cooperation, political legitimacy, and peace available to democracies.
At a time when declining levels of political trust have been cast in sharp relief by a surge in authoritarian-populist movements and leadership styles on one hand, and crises like the Covid-19 pandemic have demanded trust and cooperation between governors and governed, this special issue provides a critical reflection on how we reached this point and how we might restore trust in political systems, actors and institutions in the future. At the same time, the editors acknowledge that trends in trust (as well as mistrust and distrust) are not homogeneous across geographies or political systems, and that there remain good reasons to critique political trust where it exists only to stabilize illiberal or undemocratic systems of governance. As such, this special issue is open to those researchers who seek to challenge established orthodoxies in this field.
As a concept in and of itself, political trust spawns a number of competing theoretical propositions and methodological conundrums. The same is true of both mistrust – which denotes a healthy form of political scepticism – and distrust – which denotes active cynicism and expectations of harmful repercussions in trusting relationships. Whilst psychological studies tend to approach trust and its affiliates as multidimensional concepts built upon cognitive, affective and behavioural components, sociological studies focus upon trust (and the propensity to trust) as an acquired quality formed in childhood and adolescence. Rational choice theorists prefer to isolate individual trust judgements as specific variations of cost-benefit analyses driven by situational logic, whilst communication scholars have studied the impact of framing effects, bias and messaging in both the mainstream media and online. This special issue therefore encourages critical and reflexive discussions about thorny questions related to the conceptualisation and measurement of political trust, mistrust and distrust as well as the ways they have already been answered across and within disciplinary boundaries.
In that same vein, this special issue is sensitive to the changing tides of academe and the need for contemporary research to tackle big issues from multiple perspectives and with multiple methods and theories. Therefore, this special issue is especially welcoming of submissions that arise from interdisciplinary studies of political trust. Submissions may focus on any geographical or political system and should, wherever possible, seek to relate their content to real-world practical politics. Through their substantive content, submissions should answer one
or more of the following five questions (broadly defined):
1. How should we conceive of trust, mistrust, or distrust in politics? (theory-focused articles)
2. How should we measure political trust, mistrust or distrust? (methods-focused articles)
3. How do we understand a gradual downturn in political trust, and an upswing in political distrust (or vice-versa), at the micro, meso, or macro level? (actor/system-focused articles)
4. To what extent does trust, mistrust or distrust impact governance practices and democratic
responsiveness or vice-versa? (problem-focused articles)
5. Should we seek to restore trust in political actors, institutions and systems, or only in the presence of individually held democratic values? And if so, how? (solutions-focused articles)
Keywords: Political Trust, Political Capital, Distrust, Governance Practices, Democratic Responsiveness, Authoritarianism
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.