The decades long erosion of public trust in government has recently created an upsurge of interest in how to better understand that trend. Three scholars—Arnold Vedlitz of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University; Scott E. Robinson, University of Oklahoma; and James W. Stoutenborough, Idaho State University—in their book Understanding Public Trust: Environmental Sustainability, Fracking, and Public Opinion in American Politics provide a framework for a much more complex and nuanced understanding of government trust than was available previously.
Their research focuses on comparing overall feelings of governmental trust and mistrust to those for more specific governmental units and agencies. In this case, the specific agency is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The authors’ analysis of data from a representative national survey of the public showed that citizen attributes like demographics and ideology as well as external influences such as environmentalism can have a positive or negative effect on the EPA’s reputation, whatever the individual’s level of trust in government in general.
The authors believe that their more robust framework will be important to both scholars and practitioners as they seek to develop a more complete understanding of the public’s relationship with its governmental leaders.
“We’re all well aware of how much is said about growing government mistrust and how difficult it can be to explain the various roles elected and bureaucratic officials play in our complex political system,” Vedlitz said. “We believe our research demonstrates that individual agencies and the professionals who work there can, in spite of more general government mistrust, act in ways that build confidence in, and support for, their public service actions.”
Understanding Public Trust: Environmental Sustainability, Fracking, and Public Opinion in American Politics is published by Routledge Publishing. It can be ordered on the Routledge website.