Trust the people? Generalized Social Trust and (right-wing) populist attitudes in Comparative Context


Which factors explain the rise of populist attitudes, and thus the success of right wing populist parties, in European democracies? And how are these attitudes triggered and mediated? The success of populist parties across Europe has led to a flurry of popular and academic interest in the determinants of their success. However, despite much discussion about relative depravation, economic insecurity, and authoritarian attitudes, the role that generalized social trust plays in creating right-wing populist attitudes. Moreover, there is little to no discussion on the mechanisms that connect social trust and populist attitudes.

Combining the literature on generalized social trust with the literature on right wing populism, however, can yield important insights into both fields. On the one hand, while social trust and social capital can serve as important counterbalances against populist attitudes, loss of social trust could be an important mechanism in strengthening populist attitudes. Conversely, the question to what extent social trust can actually serve as a counterbalance against exclusionary social attitudes has become a key question in the literature This paper will explore both dimensions and ask: What role mechanisms mediate the relationship between social trust and right-wing populist attitudes and behaviors among European voters, and how do these mediated mechanisms play out in different institutional contexts?