Objectives. Partisanship should affect evaluations of Congress just as it affects evaluations of the president, and these institutional evaluations should affect political trust. We argue that the relationship between partisanship and trust is dependent on partisan control of Congress and that much of party identification's influence on trust occurs indirectly through approval of governmental institutions. Methods. Using data collected before and after the 2002 congressional elections by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, we examine changes in frequency distributions and mean values for trust and institutional approval. We use multivariate regression models and a path model to estimate the causes of political trust and self-perceived change in trust. Results. We find evidence that party control of government and party identification are important in explaining trust and institutional approval. The Republican takeover of the Senate led Republicans to evaluate the Senate more favorably and to become more trusting of the government, while having the opposite effect on Democrats. Conclusions. The changes in approval and trust resulting from the 2002 elections suggest that at least some segment of the population is cognizant of changes in the political environment and updates its views of government when the political environment changes.
Levels of trust in the national government have wide-reaching implications for the vitality of American democracy. Trust in government not only affects which candidates citizens vote for (Hetherington, 1999), but also affects whether citizens cast a ballot at all (Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, 2002). In addition, trust influences citizens' policy preferences and support for government activities on particular issues (Hetherington, 2001; Hetherington and Globetti, 2002), their compliance with the law (Scholz and Lubell, 1998), and their assessments of politicians and political institutions (Chanley, Rudolph, and Rahn, 2000; Hetherington, 1998). A lack of political trust undermines support for democratic government (Gamson, 1968; Hetherington, 1998), which in turn raises questions about a government's legitimacy (Easton, 1965). In sum, trust affects the ability of politicians to govern effectively.
Because the level of political trust carries important consequences, scholars have focused considerable attention on its causes. Without denying the role of other determinants of trust, we concentrate on the role of partisanship in the trust calculus. Specifically, we argue that citizens who share party identification with the party controlling a political institution should be more satisfied with its performance and more trusting of government.
Indeed, previous research has shown that citizens are more trusting when a member of their party is in the White House (Citrin, 1974; Schaffner and Clark, 2004). On the other hand, the relationship between political trust and partisan control of Congress remains relatively unexplored--a gap this research seeks to bridge. We confirm findings by others (e.g., Citrin, 1974; Citrin and Luks, 2001) that evaluations of Congress are significant in the trust calculus. However, we move beyond congressional approval by examining approval of the two chambers independently and by outlining how partisanship may have both direct and indirect effects on congressional approval and trust. Specifically, we argue that party identification affects citizens' evaluations of political institutions, which in turn affect trust. (1) Finally, we examine individuals' self-reported changes in trust, something previous research designs do not permit. The findings are consistent with our hypotheses and carry important implications not only about political trust and partisanship, but also about the nature of citizens' political thinking and the significance of divided government.
The Causes of Trust
Extant research has not yielded a general agreement on the underlying causes of political trust. One reason for the lack of consensus about the causes of political trust is a lack of agreement on what exactly constitutes trust. Most definitions involve evaluations of government relative to normative expectations (Miller, 1974). Of course, normative expectations involve a range of possibilities. To begin, citizens may desire that politicians behave ethically. Thus, mistrust may be traced to citizen perceptions that politicians are dishonest or lack integrity (Lipset and Schneider, 1987; Black and Black, 1994). The close scrutiny politicians currently receive from the media may feed this type of mistrust (Patterson, 1993; Orren, 1997).
In addition to considering the integrity of politicians, citizen perceptions of governmental inefficiency and waste are also cited as reasons for governmental mistrust (Blendon et al., 1997). More generally, citizen evaluations of government may also be influenced by perceptions of how it operates and the relative strength of various political actors. For example, the belief that special interests improperly dominate political debate spurs mistrust (Blendon et al., 1997). Hibbing and Theiss-Morse (1995, 2001, 2002) have extended this line of reasoning, focusing on the role of governmental processes as the root of citizen mistrust. They claim that most Americans do not value democratic processes such as deliberation and compromise. Political debate is thought to be little more than petty arguments that hinder government's ability to act; compromise is equated with selling out on principles. The visibility of the political process, combined with a belief that Americans' policy preferences are thwarted by special interests, makes the public increasingly wary of government (Nelson, 2003).
Trust may also be influenced by policy outcomes. For example, the actual and perceived conditions of the economy are often used to measure government performance and have been found to affect trust (Citrin and Green, 1986; Hetherington, 1998; Miller, 1983; but see Lawrence, 1997). Government actions on other policy issues important to citizens also influence trust (Craig, 1996). More generally, citizens are more trusting of government when they believe it is pursuing policies that reflect their own preferences. For example, greater continuity between citizen policy preferences and government outcomes contributes to higher levels of trust (Citrin, 1974; Miller, 1974; Citrin and Green, 1986; Miller and Borrelli, 1991; Hetherington, 1998; Kimball and Patterson, 1997). Even if policy outcomes are not reflective of citizens' preferences, citizens may nonetheless be more trusting when the party with which they identify has similar policy preferences (King, 1997).
Partisanship, Congress, and Trust
Given low levels of information among the American public about specific political issues (Sniderman, Brody, and Tetlock, 1991; Lupia and McCubbins, 1998) and politicians' stances on issues (e.g., Delli Carpini and Keeter, 1996), it is perhaps somewhat surprising to find consistent relationships between policy preferences and trust. Although citizens' inattention to politics (Converse, 1964; Luskin, 1987) may be rational (Downs, 1957), their lack of information means that cues and heuristics are important determinants of political behavior (Sniderman, Brody, and Tetlock, 1991; Popkin, 1994). Among political shortcuts used by citizens, party labels are paramount. Quite simply, party labels often guide Americans' understanding of the political world and their interaction with that world.
Party identification strongly influences the likelihood that citizens will vote (Rosenstone and Hansen, 1993) and for whom they cast their ballots (Bartels, 2000; Hager and Talbert, 2000; Lawrence, 2001). In addition, partisanship affects citizens' political attitudes, including trust (Citrin and Luks, 2001; King, 1997; Pew Research Center, 1998, 2003). The effects of partisanship on trust, however, are perhaps less straightforward than might be anticipated. Stronger identification with parties encourages political participation (Rosenstone and Hansen, 1993). In a similar vein, King (1997) finds a direct link between strength of party identification and faith in the government: regardless of the party with which they affiliate, strong partisans tend to be more trusting than are individuals with weaker party attachments.
That strength of partisanship promotes arguably desirable citizen attitudes is not entirely surprising. On the other hand, one might also anticipate differences between Democrats and Republicans within the ranks of strong (or weak or leaning) partisans. Identifiers are generally more supportive of politicians who share their affiliation and should be more trusting of a government controlled by their own party. Indeed, Citrin and Luks (2001) and the Pew Research Center (1998, 2003) find citizens to be more trusting when the president shares …