Dissertation Abstracts

New Approach to Analyses of the Relationship between Democracy and Trust: Comparing European Countries Using Quantitative and Qualitative Methodology

Author: Kolczynska, Marta J, mkolczynska@gmail.com
Department: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology
University: Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland
Supervisor: Kazimierz M. Slomczynski
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: trust , political attitudes , democratization , mixed methods
Areas of Research: Historical and Comparative Sociology , Political Sociology , Social Psychology


This project addresses a puzzling empirical result: In some European countries, the average trust in public institutions clearly diverges from the pattern that is typical for democratic countries with market economies. According to the theory-stipulated pattern, trust at the aggregate level should be positively related to the level of a country’s level of democracy. Thus, most democratic countries are assumed to be most trustful. However, among countries whose “democraticness” or its different aspects are marked by smaller or bigger flaws, the average level of trust in institutions and the quality of democracy seem to be negatively correlated, which means that countries with low democratic quality have surprisingly high levels of institutional trust. The proposed theoretical approach offers a set of hypotheses regarding specific configurations (interactions) of individual and country-level factors, which distort the country-level “democracy-trust” relation. Within this approach I demonstrate that (a) intersectionality of gender, class and ethnicity, and status inconsistency could be conceptualized as a multidimensional location of people in the social structure, and (b) the effects of this location on trust depend on macro-characteristics of countries, and in turn affect the country means.
Hypotheses on the effects of individual and country-level factors and their interactions will be tested using a multi-method design that combines quantitative methods (multi-level modeling with harmonized data from several surveys) and qualitative (contextual document analysis and in-depth expert interviews). Data for the quantitative portion of the project will be obtained through the harmonization of existing international surveys, to maximize both the number of countries included in the analysis, and the number of time points of observation. Correlational analyses are not able however to sufficiently answer questions and unveil complex social mechanisms. In order to make results obtained during the quantitative phase more informative and their interpretations more comprehensive, statistical analyses will be followed by the qualitative portion of the study: interviews in countries which do not conform to Inglehart’s trust-democracy model (1997) with experts from local NGOs dealing with issues of civil society, which will ensure both a high level of competence, as well their interest in the studied topic.

The revision of existing theory on links between trust in institutions and the quality of democracy will, aside theoretical contributions and methodological innovation, improve the understanding of challenges related to democratization and attempt to explain ambiguous progress in this respect in several European countries. Research goals encompass an improvement of the theoretical approach (including the effects of intersectionality and status inconsistency on trust within different national contexts), using a combination of quantitative analyses and qualitative assessments (with an innovative technique of confronting specialists in in-depth interviews with the verbal description of statistical analyses), and creating a new, harmonized data set (harmonization of data is seen in social-science methodology as one of the remedies for fragmentation of data collection). Specific products of this project will include articles in high-ranked journals and a monograph, a new rich dataset, research workshops, as well as reports for democracy-supporting organizations.

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