Tom van der Meer, Professor of Political Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, delves into the profound impact of political trust on the dynamics of representative democracy. He traces the theme’s significance back to the post-World War II era, where scholars focused on civic culture, public support, and political engagement. Concerns arose about potential disengagement from politics, which could undermine democratic systems. Tom explores the multidimensional nature of political trust, encompassing its historical context, decline, consequences, and influencing factors. While some studies suggest declining trust, the severity varies across regions and contexts. The interview examines the implications of waning trust on citizens’ adherence to laws, voting behavior, and protest involvement. Trust is categorized as blind or based on performance evaluation, with declining trust potentially fostering citizen engagement.
The conversation further delves into the questioning of assumptions, particularly the decline of public trust in politics and the centrality of trust in democracy. Tom differentiates between trust as an attitude and trust arising from skepticism, challenging preconceived notions. A substantial portion of the interview explores influencing factors, encompassing the impartiality of institutions, electoral systems, economic conditions, scandals, and education’s role. Corruption’s impact on trust is explored, emphasizing impartiality’s role in mitigating its effects.
The conversation also addresses the prevalence of political rhetoric concerning declining trust. Tom suggests that although such rhetoric underscores arguments’ significance, continuous emphasis may reinforce the perception of declining trust. The complex link between populism and political trust is briefly touched upon. While empirical support for the claim that populism thrives on rising distrust is lacking, Tom acknowledges the evolving political landscape where trust intersects with ideologies, influencing voter behavior and party alignment.