Democracy, the combination of the two Greek words “demos” (group of citizens living in a city) and “kratos” (power, ruling), comprehends the belief in shared power, cooperation, self-determination, and free will of the people. Even though it includes several different types, it is overall the most employed form of government in the contemporary world for various reasons. In this system, eligible representatives of the state are commissioned by the election of the citizens. And in order for a representative to benefit from this system, they have to successfully address to public and build a relationship of trust, sympathy, and reliability. Also for the group of citizens to be contented, it is for their best to be able to trust their government. At that point, we are able to observe certain patterns of changes proposed by the states in order to ensure public trust and ongoing positive engagement. That being said, in this article, we are going to mention some of these strategies.
According to surveys conducted by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), there are several facets and means of ensuring public trust. These include the responsiveness of the states in cases of crises, reliability in delivering those services and policies, and openness, integrity, and fairness in governance. First of all, responses in times of crisis can drastically change the perception of a state’s policy. In line with this statement, over 800 policymakers, civil servants, researchers, data providers, and representatives from the private and non-profit sectors worked as a part of the OECD in order to review the Framework for this, a process called “Building a New Paradigm for Public Trust,” just after the outbreak of the pandemic. Within the scope of this exercise, webinars and presentations were organized.
Mentioned points during those discussions about understanding trust between governments and the public include the need to have and share more granular data with the public (sufficiently detailed information), the need for different suitable policies for different territories, the need to understand the relationship between trust in government and the sustainability of long-term policy choices, developing policies that have the aim to increase the participation of the citizens in decision making, and equal access to participation to such occasions. Also, the importance of understanding that the factor of distrust is a menace to democracy was emphasized by Monica Brezzi, Head of the Governance Indicators and Performance Division in the OECD Directorate for Public Governance.
Furthermore, it is a fact that having different policies in accordance with the geographical territory is crucial in assuring trust between public and state representatives. According to related surveys, the percentage of public distrust is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas in the EU (European Union). Data provided by Lewis Dijkstra, Head of the Economic Analysis Sector in the Directorate-General, responsible for EU policy on regions and cities, show that there also exists a significant East-West division in the EU.
Another factor that affects this issue is the education level of citizens. According to data provided by surveys, people who have higher education are inclined to trust their government more. Although this fact might change from one country to another, numerical data show that the ratio of trust in the government is higher among people with a university degree, in Europe. As mentioned before, policies should be specialized accordingly and dedicated to the specific need of the state and especially local surveys on the matter of education. The largest difference between these groups is highest in Norway where people with higher education trust their governments more with a difference of 18.6 percentage points.
Now, we can mention that today, the younger population and women are inclined to trust to government less. This fact might have several reasons behind it; however, the main factor is that these groups are the most affected by recent crises. For example, the life quality of the younger generation has dramatically decreased because of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a lack of trust. Also, it is a fact that in most countries women do not feel as safe as men, which also eventually results in distrust. Bearing this in mind, it is seen that in countries where responses to these problems were efficient enough or where politicians at least give promises to the public concerning this issue, public trust is perceived as stronger.
All these previously mentioned policies are internationally employed and are mostly long-term policies. However, there are also short-term changes proposed by the states, with the aim to please the local population for a determined period of time. These changes are the ones that are usually seen before elections and require new financial propositions such as taxation regulations. Lastly, it is evident that information flow is at its highest in today’s world as technology continues to develop. Thus, disinformation has unfortunately become an effective strategy in ensuring public trust for a short period of time. Not only from politicians but also it has been benefited from in elections worldwide by the public itself.
To conclude, we have now established several means of ensuring public trust which are perceived as ideal by groups of specialists and already put into use by numerous states worldwide. There might also be such means which actually hurt the public and menace the existing trust in the long term; however, being aware of related numerical data and shared observations eradicate these negative effects and contribute to the well-being of territories.
Written by: Şevval Kalkan
Edited by: Melisa Altıntaş
Defining democracy. Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. (2022, February 10). https://www.moadoph.gov.au/democracy/defining-democracy/
Trust in government: Understanding its territorial divides - OECD. (n.d.). https://www.oecd.org/regional/multi-level-governance/Webinar%20Summary_Trust_FINAL.pdf
Christoph Bluth Professor of International Relations and Security. (2023, June 26). Why Public Trust in elections is being undermined by global disinformation campaigns. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/why-public-trust-in-elections-is-being-undermined-by-global-disinformation-campaigns-181825