Belgian researchers explain why people with low economic status don’t trust politicians as much

Newswise — The concept of ‘anomie’ — in which society disintegrates and loses its moral standards — explains why people with lower socioeconomic status trust politics less than those with higher status, new research finds published in the scientific journal Bulletin of Social Psychology.

The study was conducted by two Belgian researchers, Thierry Bornand (ULB and IWEPS) and Olivier Klein (ULB) in 2018 with a representative sample of the Belgian population of Wallonia (one of the three regions of Belgium). This region, known for its economic difficulties, is a relevant context to investigate the link between the concept of “anomie” and political trust.

But what is “anomie”?

“Anomie”, a concept first proposed by Durkheim, refers to the perception that the social fabric is disintegrating and that moral standards and trust have disappeared in society.

Interestingly, this study finds that people with lower socioeconomic status perceive more “anomie” in society than people with higher status, which explains why they also have less trust in politics.

Why is this important?

Although it is a major psychological mechanism, the perception of “anomie” had not yet been studied empirically as an explanatory factor of political trust. So what this study tells us is that political trust is not just a matter of evaluating what politicians do or don’t do.

Political trust is also influenced by how individuals view society as a whole. It is influenced by their broader perception of how society works. If people perceive that moral standards or social trust are failing, political trust will also be in decline.

Importantly, this study also shows that the perception of “anomie” is higher among people with lower socioeconomic status. The lower the status of individuals, the more they perceive that the social fabric is breaking down. In other words, the difference in socio-economic status is an element that, at the individual level, reduces political trust regardless of government performance or achievements.

Additionally, the researchers also showed that the perception of “anomie” is associated with lower interpersonal trust. Thus, inequalities between individuals could maintain a vicious circle.

Although the study was not designed to compare different contexts, the authors believe that it is up to social policy and its success in reducing inequality to break this vicious cycle, as the association between status socio-economic and anomie decreases.

Research paper:

Bornand, T., & Klein, O. (2022). Political trust of people of low socioeconomic status: the key role of anomie. Bulletin of Social Psychology, 17, 1-22.