Government’s social responsibility, citizen satisfaction and trust

P&p blog authorsEran Vigoda-Gadot, Shlomo Mizrahi and Nissim Cohen

How much do we trust the government? To what degree do we feel that it has a responsibility to ensure that its citizens are healthy? Do these issues have any relationship with our satisfaction with the services the government provides?

These are important questions, particularly when we face major issues like pandemics. We know that when we trust people or institutions, we are more willing to cooperate with them, take risks, commit to them and share information with them. In contrast, when we don’t trust people or institutions, we may fear them, be defensive in our interactions with them, not cooperate with them and distort the information we give them.

The public administration literature has devoted a great deal of attention to the issue of trust, meaning the willingness to be vulnerable to the actions of the other, or a group or institution that has the ability to harm those who trust them or betray their trust. These studies considered trust a crucial element in the relationships between public officials and citizens.

The findings in our article, “Government’s Social Responsibility, Citizen Satisfaction and Trust,” goes a step further by demonstrating the important role of public perceptions about the government’s social responsibility and the performance of public healthcare services in building trust among citizens.

We recommend that researchers focus on the mutual dependence of trust and other variables. For example, the public’s perceptions about the performance of public systems, managerial quality in public organisations, distributive and procedural justice, and beliefs about the social responsibility of government to provide public services, as well as the ways in which they co-evolve and change simultaneously. Furthermore, if we look at the co-evolution of citizen’s perceptions about various factors, we need to explain how politicians, public officials and interest groups influence these perceptions and the channels through which they do so.

From the point of view of theory, we suggest that public trust in government may be an elusive concept that has various sources. While most studies focus on the ways in which citizen’s evaluations of various aspects of reality may be related to trust in government, our article highlights citizen’s attitudes about the government’s social responsibility as a main explanation of this trust. Existing explanations tend to focus on citizen’s evaluations of the government’s performance as a main antecedent of their trust in it. By contrast, we analyse the interplay between citizen’s attitudes about the government’s social responsibility, citizen’s satisfaction with the performance of government, and trust in healthcare. We also test whether the direction of the relationships might be reversed, meaning that trust is the independent, rather than the dependent, variable.

Our findings establish that, in analysing public trust, we should also consider the involvement of intrinsic parameters such as citizen’s attitudes about the government’s social responsibility and the scope of the welfare state. Furthermore, the article shows that citizen’s satisfaction with services has more weight in explaining trust than perceptions about the government’s social responsibility and the welfare state have. This rationale, which connects citizen’s expectations about what the government should do and citizen’s satisfaction with and trust in public organisations, adds another perspective to the theory of trust.

This conclusion may also have implications for the study of democracy. Even in a society that strongly favours a generous welfare state and government intervention, people form their perceptions about public organisations primarily based on their satisfaction with the services that these organisations provide. Nevertheless, we posit that an output variable such as satisfaction influences trust because it represents the responsiveness of the system to citizen’s expectations. Thus, it is not only the outputs that matter but also the responsiveness of the system.

The existence of complex relationships between perceptions about the government’s social responsibility, the public’s trust in the government and satisfaction with the services it provides also affects public healthcare systems and health policies. Trust in public organisations promotes cooperation between citizens and public officials, reduces the costs of transactions, and contributes to economic growth and social welfare. Scholars have therefore devoted substantial effort to identifying the antecedents of trust in public organisations. However, if the relationships between these supposed antecedents and trust work in both directions, it means that we know very little about the ways in which citizens determine their trust in public organisations and the government.

This blog post was originally published on the Discover Society – Policy and Politics blog on 6 May 2020.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Mizrahi, Shlomo; Cohen, Nissim; Vigoda-Gadot, Eran (2020) ‘Government’s social responsibility, citizen satisfaction and trust’, Policy & Politics, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/030557320X15837138439319

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Resistance or resignation to welfare reform? The activist politics for and against social citizenship

When the people speak – and decide: deliberation and direct democracy in the citizen assembly of Glarus, Switzerland

Activating citizens in Dutch care reforms: framing new co-production roles and competences for citizens and professionals

Making policy information relevant to citizens: a model of deliberative mini-publics, applied to the Citizens’ Initiative Review

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