Political trust and polarization

Marc J. Hetherington, Thomas J Rudolph

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Trust in government in the United States has become increasingly polarized along partisan lines. Republicans and Democrats are now quite reluctant to trust government when the other party is in power. This chapter explores the sources and consequences of polarized political trust. Analysis of panel data suggests that polarized trust is the result of negative affect toward opposing partisans and a motivated reasoning process in which partisans place greater weight on the evaluative criteria that favor their preferred political party. The chapter further shows that polarized trust has important consequences for individuals’ policy preferences. We explain how the polarization of political trust has contributed to ongoing political dysfunction in Washington. In particular, the results suggest that the polarization of trust encourages party leaders to do what is best for their political party even if it is not best for the larger public interest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Social and Political Trust
EditorsEric M Uslaner
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780190274801
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Congress
  • Gridlock
  • Motivated reasoning
  • Partisanship
  • Polarization
  • Political trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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