a1 Northwestern University
a2 University of Minnesota
a3 Florida Atlantic University
Can public trust in government be increased by expanding knowledge of the activities government already performs? This study takes advantage of a naturally occurring experiment—the distribution of personal statements by the Social Security Administration— to examine the impact of increased domain-specific information on the public’s knowledge and confidence. Analysis of a large Gallup survey of attitudes toward Social Security finds that recipients of personal Social Security Statements gained more knowledge of, and confidence in, Social Security than nonrecipients after controlling for individual differences. These results suggest that citizens’ evaluations of government institutions echo, in part, the quality and quantity of information distributed to them. The implication for future research on political trust and confidence is to confirm the importance of expanding analysis from global to specific objects of evaluation.
(Received January 14 2009)
(Accepted September 09 2009)
Fay Lomax Cook is Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and of Political Science at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208-4100.
Lawrence R. Jacobs is Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455.
Dukhong Kim is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL 33431.