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Disentangling Political Distrust in Europe: What Do Citizens Mean and Think when Expressing Distrust towards Political Institutions and Politicians?

Eri Bertsou

Citizens' political distrust has been studied since the 1950s and increasing distrust trends have caused numerous debates among political scientists. Despite lengthy analyses of data and investigations into the causes of distrust, existing research lacks an in-depth understanding of what citizens mean when they claim to distrust their government, a politician or political institution and how they arrive at that judgement. This proves particularly challenging for the study of the European Union, where citizen attitudes are formed and transformed in a system of multilevel governance. This paper assumes a micro-level perspective on the study of political distrust and presents an analysis of popular narrative interviews with citizens in three European Union member states: Italy, Greece and the United Kingdom. It aims to explore the meaning and complexities of political distrust by breaking down the concept into its different dimensions and to shed light into the underlying evaluative processes that take place in the minds of citizens. Its goal is to provide a deeper understanding of distrust formation that will complement existing research and may help answer pressing questions about the meaning and implications of, as well as possible remedies for political distrust on the national and European institutional level.

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