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University of Connecticut Social Psychology Intergroup Relations

Political Distrust

Graph of global wealth increasing by yearDemonstration in Kunming, ChinaGreeks protest against government's
            austerity measures, AthensWall Street sign

Globally, wealth and health are increasing, democracy is spreading, and yet people mistrust their governments and other governing agencies more than ever. The chapter cited below examines this paradox. 

We present evidence that although inequality is increasing in some circumstances, the entire human power hierarchy has shifted upwards. This means that even many subordinated groups are sufficiently empowered, in absolute terms, to advocate for a converging ideal of 
empowering participatory governance in ways they previously could not. We then assess how well governments meet this heightened popular standard. We conclude that the combination of the empowerment of the lower rungs of many states’ social hierarchies and the normalization of the ideals of empowerment by government, and overall failure of governments to meet this demand, produces a measure of distrust in authority, particularly among disadvantaged people. Disadvantaged people and groups, given their current and past experiences, may have very good reasons to distrust authority. It would be a mistake to pathologize distrust without taking such considerations into account. What the effects of this distrust are on democracy and social progress overall is a more difficult question than one might expect. Read the chapter here.

Bou Zeineddine, F. & Pratto, F. (in press, expected publication December, 2013). Political distrust: The seed and fruit of the popular empowerment. In Prooijen, J. van & Lange, P. A. M. van (Eds), Power, politics, and paranoia. New York: Cambridge University Press.