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Institutional trust in today’s Russian society: causes and factors
Keywords: public institutions, trust, structure, dynamics, government, society, political culture, institutions, factors, causes
Article was received: 22-10-2017
Review date: 26-12-2017
Publish date: 06-01-2018
Institutional trust is a complex social phenomenon, demonstrated by various approaches towards understanding its causes and external manifestations. Even within one situation, the level of trust, or its dynamics, can have direct contrasting explanations. Thus, after the parliamentary elections in September of 2017 some researchers noted a drop in the level of trust by the Russian people towards the institutions, while others noticed stability, and some recorded growth. The variety of interpretations can be explained by the ongoing changes in the economic, political and social life of the society. In the RANEPA (Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration) report the drop in trust is associated with the changes in economic behavior due to the crisis, since a growing number of Russians are forced to rely on themselves and less so on the state [Vakhshtain, Stepantsov, 2017]. The Levada Center explains the decrease in trust by the influence of the socio-psychological factors. The crisis merely cooled the exaggerated expectations that built up over the 3 years since Russia’s annexation of Crimea [Levada Center, 2016]. According to the polling conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), there is a contrary increase in the public trust, resulting from crisis recovery and increase in satisfaction brought by the disciplinary measures taken in the work of the government and State Duma [explained by the experts…, 2016].
All of this emphasizes the importance of what should be considered as the starting point, and in which context the institutional trust issue should be examined. As shown by the monitoring by the Institute of Sociology RAS, the level of trust has indeed shown some growth, but only with regards to separate institutions, and over a very short period of time (approximately one year). The objective of this research is to analyzer the causes and factors of institutional trust in modern Russian society. This work uses sociological data acquired in the process of nationwide monitoring “Dynamics of social transformations of modern Russia in the socioeconomic, political, sociocultural and ethnoreligious contexts”, carried out by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences during 2014-2017. The scope of selected body of respondents consisted of 4,000 people, representing adult (18 and older) population of the Russian Federation by parameters of gender, age, education, and type of residence (city/country).
In accordance with the results of monitoring, the year 2016 manifested as a period of the lowest level of trusts to the institutions (Table 1). It finds explanation in the combination of factors, which first and foremost, are associated with the continuing worsening of the situation of population due to the crisis. The subsequent stabilization of the situation somewhat increased the social optimism. By March of 2017, there is noticed a positive dynamics with reference to all institutions excluding television, the trust in which retained at the level of 35%. However, only the Orthodox Church, army, law enforcement agencies, trade unions, and political parties were able to fully return to the level of October of 2014 or even exceed it. The factors of restoring the trust primarily related to the leveling of media coverage: refusal from provocations in favor of the neutral or positive news.
Dynamics of trust towards political parties and public institutions, in %
Dynamics of trust in political and social institutions
Critical attitude remained primarily with regards to authorities, among which the government and regional leaders lost in trust of the citizens more than others. It was affected not only by the ongoing crisis, but also by the utmost unpopularity of the suggested ways out of the crisis. The reduction in social expenditure, commodities and first-need services prices increase, moratorium on allocation of the investment part of state pension, increase of individual income taxes, along with other measures, are assessed by the citizens in the context of further worsening of their situation. The prospect of “tightening belts” for many years is perceived especially negative on the background of messages about the corruption crimes and offshore scandals.
Complexity of the moment is explained by the absence of any clear representations about the goals of social development and means for their achievement. Even the specific programs do not find their realization. This is reflected in the annual (2017) report of the government on exercising of the “May” Presidential edict [On the state of execution…, 2017], but even more so – critical response to it [What was kept quiet by the government…, 2017]. First and foremost, it is referred to the social component of “May” edicts. The indicated numbers of 50% salary increase today seems quite ironic against the reduction in actual incomes of the population and growing prices for food, first-need commodities, and housing services and utilities. The acuteness of situation is intensified by impoverishment of a significant part of population, as well as the gaining pace in the crisis situation corruption, including among the highest officials and law enforcement agencies. Only in 2017, there have been examined several criminal case on corruption crime, involving the former regional leaders, law enforcement agencies, and ministries.
An insignificant increase in trust in the representative institutions is perceived especially negatively due to the fact that under the conditions of apparent decline in living standards and impairment of citizens’ rights, they have never become the reliable exponents or defenders of people’s interests. Approximately a quarter of the respondents, do trust the State Duma and the Federation Council, although if compared to two years ago, it was only one third. Out of all federal authorities, the State Duma receives the least amount of trust from the Russian citizens – 48%, which underlines the strong skepticism with regards to the country’s highest legislative body.
The State Duma elections of the 7th convocation that took place in 2016 became the confirmation of the aforesaid. For majority of the Russian citizens, voting at the elections was a formal manifestation of political activity, unrelated to the further control over exercising of the campaign slogans and participation in decision-making process, not taking into account the determination of the country’s future development path. It is no coincidence that only 25% of the respondents assessed the results of the past elections with sense of optimism, as well as hope that the country will successfully progress, and the life become better. At the same time, 49% of the respondents are sure that there will be no significant changes after the elections, while 11% believe that the country will face tough times ahead. As concerned the transformations in sociopolitical life of the country, 38% of the respondents indicated the succession of generations of politicians and appearance of the new young political leaders to be the most probable result of the valid elections.
As noted by Gabriel Almond, the trust in institutions is the key aspect of political culture that signifies a set of our evaluations, comprehension of the activity of political and state institutions, politicians, statuses and roles with regards to authorities [Almond, 1956]. From the perspective of culture, trust in political institutions is exogenic. It originates outside the political sphere within the deeply established people’s ideologies that take its roots in the cultural norms and transfer through socialization at the early stage of life. Institutional approach, on the contrary, suggests the trust is politically endogenic, rational, as well as depends of citizens’ evaluation of the efficiency of work of the institutions [Mishler, Rose, 2001].
In the aforementioned context, special importance gains the distribution of trust between the institutions. Russian political culture with the characteristic to it internal proneness to conflict and sacralization of the supreme authority substantiates its concentration around the institution and presidential persona. Such type of political culture, on one hand, is described as polarization of public opinion, presence of the polar points of view, disregard to the opponents’ opinion, and refusal from pluralism. It helps the authority to guide the public discontent towards the “dissidents”, but stay outside the criticism itself. At the same time, concentration of the resources in state hands justifies the fact that the opponents in their antagonism appeal to it searching for both, support and attempts to discredit the adverse party. Such “local” opposition does not contribute into the formulation of constructive approaches toward resolution of the urgent issued faced by society, because it neither requires nor sets the perspectives for the assessment of depth of the counterpoising trends within [Akhiezer and others, 2013: 476-477].
Political culture does not manifest as a sustainable and long-term factor, which impact ensured the higher level of trust in president of the country if compared with other institutions; while the influence of economic and political factors is relatively short, and can shatter the citizens’ confidence only temporarily. The monitoring results demonstrate that by March of 2017, the level of trust in president of the country equaled out (Table 2), having overcome the “crisis” index of 2016, but still did not return to its “Crimean” maximum of 2014. But most importantly, the current level of trust in the president is at fairly safe distance from its minimal index of 55%, recorded in the protest 2012.
Dynamics of trust towards the President of the Russian Federation, % of respondents
The structure of distribution of trust in the institutions vividly reflects the traditions of political culture of the modern Russian society, while its dynamics – the economic and sociopolitical changes taking place within. Being a rather sensitive instrument for identifying the state of public moods in the country, the trust explicitly responses to the notional events with president’s involvement, affecting the attitude of Russians to other institutions. First and foremost, it is explained by response of the Russians to the “Putin-Medvedev tandem reshuffling” in September of 2011, whereupon the question of the fortification of trust in state institutions becomes evident for the government. On the contrary, the year of 2014, which signifies the Crimea’s reunification with Russia, marked the highest level of trust in not only president, but also the majority of other institutions.
The results of analysis of the structure and dynamics of institutional trust allow speaking of the phenomenon of influence of the trust in highest official upon the level of trust in other public institutions: the more credibility has the president of the country, the higher is the level of trust in separate institutions and institutional system overall. Due to this, the attitude towards V. Putin can be viewed not only as one of the aspects, but also an essential factor in relationship between the state and society. The “Putin Factor” is a specific complex of representations that identifies the personal qualities of the President V. Putin with the political events and processes taking place in the country. Thus, in between the parliamentary elections of 2016 and forthcoming presidential elections of 2018, the particular interest is aroused by the shifts, even most insignificant, that develop in relation to the Acting President Vladimir Putin. Especially, considering the fact that the experts, alongside the majority of Russians, do not see an actual alternative to him.
In March of 2017, Vladimir Putin’s presidency was fully supported by 52% of the Russian and partially supported by another 39%.
Dynamics of regard of Russians towards the performance of Vladimir Putin in the Presidential Office, % of respondents
The portion of opponents of the President Vladimir Putin changes insignificantly, to a greater extent – in the ratio of those who fully supports him or partially supports him. Thus, the acting president has a long life support, and the institutional system – the opportunity of managing public trust. However, in a number of cases, the “Putin Factor” does not help in overcoming the zone of distrust. Hence, among the respondents who unambiguously support the president, prevails the sense of distrust with regards to the political parties, law enforcement agencies, and judicial system. The opponents of the president, in turn, have more trust in social and human rights organizations.
The institutional trust is unevenly distributed across the Russian social space, and a substantial factor is the level of financial security of the citizens (Table 4). The impact of the factor of financial security manifests in the higher level of trust in all institutions with no exception. The gap in the level of trust between the financially solvent and disadvantaged citizens in a number of cases appears to be quite significant. In 2017, for example, 79% of financially solvent and 60% financially insolvent Russians expressed confidence in the President of the Russian Federation; 54% and 27% – to the government; 43% and 37% respectively – to the regional leader. The wealthy Russians ensure a “surplus” to the average level of confidence, primarily, in relation to the state institutions – government, parliament, judicial authorities, and law enforcement agencies. The poor Russians demonstrate a relatively low level as compared to the average indexes of the level of confidence in the entire vertical of executive power – from the president to the local self-governance; but the greatest negativity is centered around the government of the Russian Federation. However, the financially privileged social classes by no means ensure support to the government in long-term perspective.
Dynamics of trust towards institutions depending on financial status of the respondents, in %
The dynamics demonstrates the diverse nature of trust of the groups with the different level of financial security: more rational and independent among the rich, and rather emotional and paternalistic among the poor. This once again confirms the thesis about the conflicting political culture of the Russian society, which is triggered not the different political views, as much as social heterogeneity, strong inequality manifested in the unbalanced distribution of income among population [Dubin, 2004: 214].
According to the data from Table 4, we can observe that the level of trust in all institutions had not restored among the financially solvent Russians, while among the poor populations, slightly exceeded the level of 2014. The financially insolvent Russian started placing more confidence in mass media and even political parties. Although with regard to the latter, it is apparent that the role was played by distribution of the campaign information, rather than trust as such. Namely the institutions, to which the level of citizens’ trust in 2017 exceeded the level of 2014, as well as associated with them public discourses, play a significant role in communication between the authorities and poor social strata. Conventionally they can be indicated as strength, faith, and propaganda; and this is precisely what contributed to the restoration of confidence in majority of the institutions at the scale of 2014.
Among the wealthy social strata, the level of trust has increased insignificantly. The stabilization of trust and its partial restoration at the scale of 2014, perhaps, pertains more to the separate institutions – social organizations and law enforcement agencies. The representatives of middle class adopt an intermediate position. The confidence in institutions among them has exceeded the level of 2016, but still not reached the level of 2014. They are united with the poverty stricken strata of the population in the increased trust towards political parties, and with the wealthy in cautiousness with regards to mass media. Overall, maintained skepticism towards authorities alongside the increase of trust in the law enforcement agencies and social organizations is common to all social strata.
Most difficulties with restoration of trust experienced the government institutions. In this situation, the role of other public institutions, which first and foremost manifest as mediators between the government and society, becomes more important. The state is interested in supporting the civil society institutions, which activity mitigates the critical and protest moods in the society. Thus, in crisis situation, the role of social institutions is largely demanded by the government.
Another essential factor in characterizing the attitude towards institutions lies in the type of settlement, but its impact is more contradictory in comparison with the factor of financial security (Table 5).
Trust towards institutions depending on type of residency in 2017, % of respondents
Contradictory impact of the financial security factor is explained by the fact that the financial status is stable enough to characterize the situation of respondents and their families for an extended period of time. The settlement factor reflects the lifestyle of the entire community with the inherent local culture and traditions, but sensitive to changes in the federal, regional, and municipal policy. Therefore, the structure of trust depending on the type of settlement each time represents practically new picture as result of the dynamic interaction of various factors.
First and foremost, the author highlights a pole of distrust, represented by the regional centers. It is most noticeable in terms of the average level of trust in the institutions – 34%. While the pole of trust is present in the urban-type settlements – 45%. Apparently, it is associated with the fact that the regional centers are the concentration of the local human capital, but the quality of life is lower than in metropolises. In general, the attitude of dwellers of the separate type of settlements towards the institutions significantly reflects the contradictory impact of various factors.
It is confirmed by the dynamics of trust, especially with pertinence to the government institutions. Thus, in October of 2014 – at the height of the “Crimean euphoria” – the residents of metropolises demonstrated the lowest level of trust in the government institutions, while the dwellers of rural settlements demonstrated the highest. At the same time, 84% of the rural area residents expressed confidence in the President of the Russian Federation, comparing with 68% among the metropolitan residents; in the government – 63% and 52%, in the State Duma – 35% and 25%, in the Federation Council – 38% and 19% respectively.
With the worsening of economic crisis and subsequent stabilization, the dynamics of the level of trust in government institutions has obtained multidirectional trends, which as a result let to its relative levelling among the residents of all types of settlements. The residents of metropolis and rural areas demonstrated a rapid decrease of their trust in regional and local leaders, while the residents of regional centers, on the contrary, demonstrated an increase. However, the growth of confidence in social and human rights organizations, trade unions, and church among the population all types of settlements testifies to the more positive perception of their role in the social life.
Thus, we see a complex interconnection of various types of factors and different levels. The structure of institutional trust reflects the inherent to Russian political culture specific traits, while its dynamics reflects the ongoing social changes. The interaction of the sociocultural, economic and political factors substantiates the constant “shift” of trust from one institution or group of institutions towards others, simultaneously ensuring stability and adaptability of the institutional system to the changing environment.