Schafheitle, S., Wember, D. & Weibel, A.

Bürgervertrauen in die Europäische Kommission

eine empirische Analyse antezendenter Faktoren

Public trust in political institutions has been studied from a variety of perspectives (cf. Miller & Listhaug, 1990; Newton & Norris, 2000; Blind, 2007). Hence, a lot of often unrelated trust antecedents have been identified in the literature such as implementation of E-Government structures, macroeconomic performance, education, political participation or anti-corruption measures. In this study we strive to develop a more parsimonious model of trust development. We draw on research of political legitimacy (Scharpf, 1970) and on trust research (Cook & Wall, 1980) and argue that trust is driven mainly by two dimensions: (a) an input dimension which signals benevolent intentions of the trustor and (b) and an output dimension which signals competence. On the basis of this model we propose that trust in the European Commission is driven by four factors: political participation and value congruence signaling actions (both reflecting the input/benevolence dimension) as well as visibility and assignability of the policy outcome and non-macroeconomic performance (both reflecting the output/competence dimension).

We test our hypotheses with a quasi-experimental design i.e. we conduct a factorial survey. This methodological approach has been chosen because it is well suited to study value systems and social norms (Rossi & Anderson, 1982; Beck & Opp, 2001; Opp, 2002). Moreover, this design allows us to control for the factors causing trust while the dependent variable - in our case perceived trustworthiness of the EC and trust - can be measured with multi-item survey questions. In our case the factors were measured with vignettes - small scenarios - that depicted a typical situation where a person had to base his/her decision to trust the EC on. Conducting a factorial survey, three scenarios (vignettes) out of the “universe of vignettes” (= 16) built up a so-called “set of vignettes” – by means of random selection. Therefore, each respondent was asked to evaluate three vignettes with different parameter values of the treatments. Thus, we used a non-orthogonal design.

The latent theoretical construct of trustworthiness was measured by reliable and valid scales of Mayer and colleagues (1995) (7point Likert-scales), distinguishing three items for goodwill-based trustworthiness and three items for competence-based trustworthiness which together formed the construct "overall trustworthiness". The willingness to be vulnerable” (Mayer et al., 1995; Rousseau et al., 1998), was measured in financial terms by single-item inquiry. We assumed, that those citizens who are more willing to be vulnerable towards the EC are willing to pay a greater amount of direct taxes to the EC (cf. Scholz & Lubell, 1998).

Our data first shows that input factors are important antecedents to trust in the EC. Value congruence signaling actions were found to exert a strong impact on both facets of trust: the Commission’s trustworthiness and the „willingness to be vulnerable“ (β=0.8, p<5%; β=0.54, p<5%). Whereas political participation only has a strong causal impact on the citizen’s willingness to be vulnerable against the commission (β=0.5, p<5%). These results demonstrate that input-factors are important antecedents to trust despite that a vast majority of scholars tend to downplay the importance of input-based antecedents to trust (cf. Fiorina, 1987; Nye, 1997; Alesina & Vacziarg, 2000). Second output factors matter too. Visibility and assignability of the outcome has a weak significant impact on both, the institutional trustworthiness, and the willingness to be vulnerable (β=0.38, p<5%; β=0.32, p<5%), whereas non-macroeconomic performance only slightly affects the citizen’s evaluation of the EC’s trustworthiness (β=0.32, p<5%).

These findings call for further research. First, the data were gathered only from a German population and second, out of a convenient sample. Practical implications of this study are, that the value-congruence signaling actions have been clearly underrated so far. It is not sufficient that European institutions understand themselves to be united by some shared values such as peacekeeping, economic wealth, or the fundamental freedoms of the internal market. Rather it seems paramount that these values are acted upon and that these actions are visible to the public. Moreover, these findings bear important impact on the future shape of European polity as well as contribute to the discussion of whether or not an institutional reform of European polity is mandatory in order to increase citizen’s trust. Especially the high coefficients of value congruence, e.g. value drive efforts of the EC show impressive, that the very core idea of the European Integration process and the sui generis achievement of peace on a thitherto war-driven and hostile continent did not lose on actuality, even in these days of the erosion of EU’s manifest foundations.


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Titel (deutsch): Bürgervertrauen in die Europäische Kommission – eine empirische Analyse antezendenter Faktoren
Titel (englisch): Political Trust in the European Commission – an empirical investigation of trust antecedents
Erhebungszeitraum: 02/2013–04/2013
Stichprobe (effektiv): 540
Stand der Informationen: 24.06.2013

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