Building Trust to Reinforce Democracy

Democracy and trust in governments

The OECD released a report on trust in government and public institutions sharing the main findings from a survey to over 50,000 responses across 22 OECD countries. The “Trust survey” measures government performance across five drivers of trust – reliability, responsiveness, integrity, openness, and fairness. According to the OECD to measure and better understand what drives people’s trust in public institutions is a crucial part of reinforcing democracy.

Key takeaways:

1. OECD countries are performing reasonably well on average on many measures of governance, such as citizens’ perceptions of government reliability, service provision, and data openness. For example, most people, in most countries, are satisfied with the provision of healthcare and education and only a third are concerned that their government would not be prepared for a future pandemic.

2. Political polarization: Trust levels decreased in 2021 (though they remain slightly higher than in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis) as countries fight to emerge from the largest health, economic and social crisis in decades. Now, those who did not vote for the incumbent government are much less likely to trust it. Across countries, there is a sense that democratic government is working well for some, but not well enough for all.

3. Governments could do better in responding to citizens’ concerns in some areas that are key to improve trust in government and public institutions reinforcing democracy:

  • Equal opportunities for representation in decision-making is falling short of their expectations: Just a third of citizens say the political system in their country lets them have a say and four in ten respondents, on average across countries, say that their government would improve a poorly performing service, implement an innovative idea, or change a national policy in response to public demands.

  • Government integrity: near half of respondents, on average across countries, think a high-level political official would grant a political favour in exchange for the offer of a well-paid private sector job, and about one-third predict a civil servant would accept money in exchange for speeding up access to a service.

  • Disadvantaged groups has lower levels of trust in the system:  younger people, people living on low income, people with low levels of education, and people who feel financially insecure.

  • Fake news: Skepticism towards the news media and access to reliable information is today a factor of distrust that weaken democracy.

  • Climate change: Around half of citizens think governments should be doing more to reduce climate change, while just over one-third are confident that countries will succeed in reducing their country’s contribution to climate change.

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