Why Do Voters Lose Trust in Governments? Explaining the Decline of Political Trust in Australian Politics from 2007-2016

Dr. Liang Jiang
Dr. James Downes

Is there a crisis of political trust in Australia? Scholars often optimistically hold that even though the level of political trust in Australia has changed over time, it does not indicate a crisis of political trust because the trend in political trust fluctuates in accordance with a cycle based on the term of office of the governing party。 However, during the time between 2007 and 2016, citizens in Australia experienced four Australian federal elections and one party alternation in which Labor party government had been elected from 2007 to 2013 and the Coalition government won the 2013 and 2016 federal elections. The level of political trust displayed in the Australian population sharply declined from 43 percent in 2007 to 26 percent in 2016, which did not rebound but hit the lowest level in the Australian history. Even though research on political trust has been expanding, the existing literature tells us little about causes of such decline in political trust in Australia. Studies on consequences of low levels of political trust for Australian politics have drawn more attention from scholars than exploring causes of the decline in political trust in Australia. Therefore, the combination of existing research and recent data presents one puzzle: what does push political trust down in Australia? To answer this question, we employ data from Australian Election Study conducted in 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016 and explore what lead to the continuous decline in political trust from 2007 to 2016. In this paper, we argue that levels of political trust depend on the perception of government performance on valence issues, but more importantly, the perception or judgment can be conditioned by citizens’ cognitive ability and affective cues.