Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Rebuilding Trust in Broken Systems? Populist Party Success and Citizens’ Trust in Democratic Institutions

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Abstract:  What effect does the recent rise of populist parties harnessing an anti-system rhetoric have on political trust? Will citizens become disenchanted with and lose trust in the political system, or could populist party success even stimulate a growth of political trust? Arguing that populist parties may well be conceived as a corrective force giving voice to and addressing citizen concerns about the established political system, this contribution hypothesizes that populist party success will increase political trust among the general public, especially in countries lacking democratic quality, with weak corruption control, and meagre government performance. Empirically, it combines ParlGov data with survey data from the European Social Survey (2002–2016) as well as aggregate data from the Varieties-of-Democracy project and the World Development Indicators to investigate how political trust has changed in relation to the growing success of populist parties and how democratic quality, corruption control, and government performance have moderated this relationship in 23 European democracies. Its main findings indicate that, at least in the short run, political trust increases rather than decreases following populist party success and that this increase in trust is most pronounced in political systems that lack democratic quality, struggle with corruption, and deliver only meager government performance.

Keywords:  corruption control; democratic quality; economic performance; government performance; political trust; populism


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© Marlene Mauk. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.