Inequality and Governance in Unstable Democracies: The Mediating Role of Trust 

Project Duration: 2019 to 2023

Rising inequality across the globe has increased the importance of studying the impact of inequality on democracy and governance. Previous research has shown high inequality to have a negative association with the quality of government, strength of democratic institutions, and citizens’ level of political participation and civic engagement. However, there remain gaps in our understanding of the underlying causal mechanisms behind this relationship. One key mediating factor between inequality and democratic governance is the level of trust that citizens place on institutions, social groups, and other individuals. This project aims to study how high inequality erodes peoples’ trust, and how that leads to a breakdown in governance.

The key research aims of this project include:

  • Investigating the key determinants of citizens’ trust in institutions and other individuals
  • Understanding the effect of high inequality on institutional and interpersonal trust
  • Understanding how changes in citizens’ trust affects governance outcomes
  • Studying how trust can be improved in environments with high inequality
  • Studying how improvements in trust levels can lead to better governance, public service delivery, and representation in political systems

The project aims to study the aforementioned research questions through a series of lab and field experiments to be conducted in Pakistan, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Spain. These countries allow us to study our hypothesized relationships across different contexts of inequality, the strength of democratic institutions, and trust levels. The lab and field experiments will gauge existing levels of trust and how they vary across different levels of inequality, and then test policy interventions using Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) at the local government level which can potentially make governance more transparent and increase individuals’ trust in political institutions.