Could political distrust lead to small government?

[Restored from NLA site]

Over at his blog, Andrew Leigh asks a question he previously discussed in more detail in a book he co-edited, The Prince’s New Clothes: Why Do Australians Dislike Their Politicians?:

If you???re a classic small-government conservative, rising distrust of politicians is consistent with the Reaganesque ???government isn???t the solution, it???s the problem??? message.

I can see the logic, but it just hasn’t happened. There doesn’t seem to be any relationship between trust in politicians and attitudes on the size of government. For example, in the Roy Morgan series of polls on the ethics and honesty of various occupational groups, politicians have consistently done badly. Last year just 15% of voter rated them highly for ethics and honesty. And would we trust such rogues with our money? Yes! 68% of us would rather the politicians spend the surplus than give it back to us so that we can spend it ourselves.

The Roy Morgan survey is a bit demanding, wanting high or very high ratings. A better question has been asked in the Australian Election Survey, which asks whether people in government are looking after themselves or whether they can be ‘trusted to do the right thing nearly all the time’? With both ‘usually can be trusted’ and ’sometimes can be trusted’ options, in 2004 40% of respondents thought the politicans could at least sometimes be trusted. But that still leaves quite a few people who seemingly think that politicians are unstrustworthy and that they should spend surpluses rather than give them back.

Why has this happened? One theory, which I have advanced in Catallaxy posts that are inaccessible due to their server problems, is that the claimed distrust of politicians is a bit of a pose; a cliched response to questions about trust, but not actually an operational assumption when people think about politics. We can see this in higher trustworthiness ratings for specific politicians than politicians in general, and arguably it is showing up here as well.
Continue reading “Could political distrust lead to small government?”


Catallaxy is my biggest source of referrals, so I presume we have quite a few overlapping readers who will have noticed that it has been down, with server problems apparently. It’s now back in very primitive form, without any substantive posts yet or its archive (I hope that is recovered – my posts here would be even longer than they are if I could not link back to old posts that support elements of my argument). But Tom seems hopeful that things will be back to normal soon.

Update: There are now a few substantive posts to check out.