Interpersonal Trust, Distrust, and Political Gain

In Ryan Carlin and Gregory Love’s paper ” Political Competition, Partisanship and Interpersonal Trust in Electoral Democracies”, published through Cambridge University Press, the authors explore the interplay between interpersonal trust in politics, particularly in political structures which subscribe to partisanship, and the effects on overall social good. The authors conclusion after reviewing plenty of studys provide a nuanced answer to their original research question; “how democratic institutions themselves shape co-operativesocial preferences” (Carlin et al 116).

After trust game studies in various nations, such as
Chile, Uruguay, The United States, El Salvador, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, and Portugal, the research concludes on uneasy territory; representational democracies which utilize partisanship have large trust gaps between established parties. These interpersonal trust gaps hinder the road for social progression, further allowing regressive political hostility and encouraging systemic division among politically aware citizens. From this conclusion, the authors encourage further research among the social sciences in regards to politics psychological effects on trust and cooperation.

A very clear example comes to mind when discussing democratic trust in partisanship based systems, one which is all too familar to The United States. Outlined by Christian M. Bate, America’s current situation is one created by extreme interpersonal trust and harsh demonization towards other social and political groups. Trump’s America relies on us vs. them mentalities; radically unifying the political right has created a dangerous hostility, encouraging the regression of social thought and policy, to scare people and encourage the popularity of cult leaders like Donald Trump. This paper provides a fairly obvious observation on the nature of social trust in bipartisanships, but effectively utilizes data from nations other than The United States to deliver the all too real conclusion.

Stepping away from radical competition and distrust in politics, I would instead like to talk about issues that arise when some political parties within a partisanship attempt to merge their audiences, and encourage competition in a naturally competitive political atmosphere.

Democratic parties have, in the past, attempted a cooperative strategy, one which merges two groups under a bipartisanship in the attempt to gain a wider range of votes and claim an electoral win. This may seem like a good idea, but due to issues of interpersonal trust and fierce competition, bipartisan parties end up competing on a tilted table, so to speak. Voters are less than thrilled when they have to cooperate with a competing political party, even when the other party stands on the same side of the political scale. This may cause some voters to leave the group altogether in search of a party willing to fight tooth and nail to represent their views on a national level. This also proves difficult when other parties within the same system are willing to use interpersonal trust to their political advantage, effectively proving the bipartisanship a null and void solution to a inherently competitive political system.

Political competition still requires a momentous amount of research in order to understand ways to soothe brutal competition and interpersonal distrust, but Carlin et al provide a useful and thorough starting point to the issue. If representative based politics was originally concieved to further social good and increase national unity, than this is an incredibly useful and important discussion to study further in academic discourse.

Political Cartoon Credit:


  1. Thanks a lot for your post. you caught my attention when you highlighted on the fact that voters are not happy when they have to cooperate with people from the opposing political party. this made me think its solely because people are naturally competitive and just love competing. Do you think this competitiveness is solely due to the behavioural character of being competitive or mostly it is because democracy gives people the incentive to be competitive.


  2. Very nice post. How do you think that the moderate right (and even in some cases far right)’s attempt to distance itself from the alt-right and white supremacy plays into Trump’s us and them mentality? When you say that Trump unified the right, are you including just the traditional right in that unification? After all, his rejection of people like Banner from the White House was a clear indication that Trump was trying to distance himself from the alt-right. Even the term alt-right itself in fact is contrary to an attempted unification as it sees certain ideologies within right wing politics as non-standard or alternative. Is this, then, another manifestation of the us and them mentality so pervasive in American politics in the 21st century?

    I also liked how you talked about strategies of cooperation in the context of bipartisan politics. One facet of American political organization that I don’t think is talked about enough is the fact that the Democratic and Republican parties have essentially cooperated to make it nearly impossible for any other party to win a majority of votes in the modern age, as special treatment is given to these two parties in the legal system and beyond. What do you think about this and how it relates to the article?


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s