Trusting What You Know: Information, Knowledge, and Confidence in Social Security (WP-02-38)


Lawrence R. Jacobs, Fay Lomax Cook, and Dukhong Kim

Political trust and confidence remain low by historic standards. Although existing research suggests that restoring the public’s political trust and confidence requires improved government performance, the fundamental but unexamined question is whether the public’s faith can be increased by expanding its information and knowledge about the activities that the government already does perform. This study examines the impact of increased domain-specific information on the public’s knowledge and confidence. Using OLS regression, ordered probit analysis, and path analysis based on LISREL structural equation modeling, this study examines a large Gallup survey of attitudes toward Social Security. It finds that recipients of the Social Security Administration’s personal Statement experienced higher knowledge and confidence in Social Security than non-recipients after controlling for individual traits related to motivation, cognitive capacity, and social location. These findings suggest that public evaluation of institutional performance echoes, in part, the quantity and quality of information that government distributes to citizens. The implication for future research on political trust and confidence is to confirm the importance of shifting analysis from global to specific objects of evaluation and from individual or regime judgment criteria to standards based on institutional performance.

Lawrence R. Jacobs, Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota
Fay Lomax Cook, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University
Dukhong Kim, Doctoral student, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

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