Faith No More? The divergence of political trust between urban and rural Europe

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Issue: 2021
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This paper looks the divergence in political trust levels between rural and urban areas since 2008. It concludes that this increasing rural-urban divide has important implications for European democracies.

The research uses data gathered between 2008 and 2018 bythe European Social Survey, accounting for a total population of 433 million and allowing a final sample of just over 125,000 people aged over 16 years in 18 countries.

The survey asks respondents whether they live in a big city, suburbs, in a small town or city, in a country village or in the countryside. It also asks about their trust in parliament, the legal system, the police, politicians, political parties, the European Parliament and the United Nations – from this the researchers were able to calculate an average trust score for all the categories.

The paper finds that the more rural the area in which the respondents live, the lower their trust in government. Moreover, this divide is growing, with the trend driven largely by Spain and Portugal. The most important drivers, the researchers find, are satisfaction with healthcare, education and the economy.

It is no coincidence that these trends have worsened since the global financial crisis, the researchers say: its aftermath led to austerity measures which hit particularly hard in rural areas of Southern Europe.

The paper concludes policy makers should focus on healthcare and education if they wish to rebuild trust in these areas: a failure to take timely action could further erode trust and make it harder to win it back in the future.