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Kees Aarts: does anyone still have confidence in politics?

Does anyone still have confidence in politics?

According to the media and the public opinion, trust in politicians, administrators, parties, and ultimately also in the functioning of democracy is said to decline in the Netherlands and in other Western countries over the last 50 years. The inevitable consequence would be that we would be heading for a crisis and the subsequent downfall of democracy.

Kees Aarts

However, this downfall still hasn’t happened. The existence of this crisis is also seriously questioned by political scientists. Large-scale research into trust in democracy does not show a general decline anywhere. Perhaps, then, confidence in democracy does not decline among everyone, but among certain groups?

According to modernization theories, such as the theory of post-materialism, the higher educated in particular will be frustrated by the restrictions that political institutions impose on their ambitions and interests. Or is it the lower educated who, according to globalization theories, become frustrated as the losers of globalization? These two major social theories are clearly at odds with each other.

A few years ago, together with a number of colleagues, I tried to find out which theory was correct. With data from nine European countries over the past half century, we investigated whether it is the higher or lower educated who lose confidence in democracy. As it turns out, neither group shows a very clear growth or erosion of that confidence. What is always found, however, is that the higher educated have considerably more confidence in democracy than the lower educated. Not a crisis, definitely a gap.

prof. dr. C.W.A.M. (Kees) Aarts
First name
Professor of Political Institutions and Behaviour, Dean of the Faculty BSS
Democracy, elections, electoral behavior
Last modified:03 September 2019 1.35 p.m.
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