How does trust in government affect voter turnout? The non-monotonic hypothesis
Costlow Oyler, Diane
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The conventional wisdom suggests that trust in government ought to affect voter turnout in a positive linear way. Greater trust ought to translate into greater electoral participation. An enduring finding in the voting behavior literature, however, is that trust in government does not affect one's likelihood of voting. The most trustful citizens are no more likely to vote than those who are least trustful. In this study, I reexamine the effect of trust on turnout in order to explore the possibility that trust affects turnout in a non-monotonic way, with both high and low levels of trust leading to abstention. Doing so, I find that one's level of trust in government does in fact have an impact on the likelihood of voting. Moderate trusters are more likely to come to the polls than individuals with either high or low levels of trust in government. High levels of trust, in particular, sharply reduce the odds that an individual will take the time to vote. Low levels of trust also suppress turnout, but, when other conditions are controlled for, the effect is more mild and indirect.