Trust in Government and the American Public’s Responsiveness to Rising Inequality

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Abstract

The United States has become increasingly unequal. Income inequality has risen dramatically since the 1970s, yet public opinion toward redistribution has remained largely unchanged. This is puzzling, given Americans’ professed concern regarding, and knowledge of, rising inequality. I argue that trust in government can help to reconcile this. I combine data on state-level income inequality with survey data from the Cumulative American National Election Studies (CANES) from 1984 to 2016. I find that trust in government conditions the relationship between inequality and redistribution, with higher inequality prompting demand for government redistribution, but only among politically trustful individuals. This holds among conservatives and non-conservatives and among the affluent and non-affluent. These findings underscore the relevance of political trust in shaping attitudes toward inequality and economic redistribution and contribute to our understanding of why American public opinion has not turned in favor of redistribution during an era of rising income inequality.

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Macdonald, D. (2020). Trust in Government and the American Public’s Responsiveness to Rising Inequality. Political Research Quarterly, 73(4), 790–804. https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912919856110

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