Copying this question from Academia.Stackexchange.

Trying to do my research on trust and political polarization relationship, but my analysis section contradicts the theoretical. My dependent variable is polarization, independent - trust. I assume that the increase in the ingroup trust and the decrease in the outgroup trust will strengthen the political polarization (affective one, in particular). It is based on the social capital theory by Fukuyama, Putnam; political polarization theory by Iyengar, Moris, Fiorina, Druckman.

But my regressions outputs neither confirms this assumption, nor show the significance. I use self-collected survey data, N = 375.

These questions are mostly for political and social scientists.

Am I wrong in the theoretical assumption? Are there any conventional theoretical findings on trust-polarization relationship? Are there any more research on this topic that provide consistent trust-polarization theoretical nexus? What are the most suitable refereneces for this research?

  • 2
    "Polarization" is a typical measure for two-party systems (UK/US) where ingroup/outgroup is also more well-defined. Where did you collect your data?
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 12:26
  • @MSalters definitely not in UK/US. In Russia the understanding of polarization is specific and concerns social identities. But how does this information can help to answer the question?
    – rg4s
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 14:29
  • There are various measures of polarization in a multi-party system; see politics.stackexchange.com/a/50134/18373... however you are measuring just the affective polarization of the public on some issues (as described in annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/… for instace?) Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 0:06
  • As conventionally measured "Scholars have used three main classes of techniques to measure affective polarization: survey self-reports of partisan affect, implicit or subconscious tests of partisan bias, and behavioral measures of interpersonal trust and group favoritism or discrimination based on partisan cues. "... So it's unclear how you defined either polarization or outgroups in a way that these measures aren't correlated. Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 0:16

1 Answer 1


The concepts you are comparing are pretty subtle so how you operationalize them matters a lot.

Places with high social trust as conceptualized by Putnam tend to be low in population density, conservative and distrustful of government. Some of these connections are systemic and fundamental on a cross-cultural basis as noted by the World Values Survey.

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Often social trust arises from the need to rely upon it in the absence of effective political institutions or generalized community uncertainty. See, e.g., Johannes C Buggle, Ruben Durante, "Climate Risk, Cooperation, and the Co-Evolution of Culture and Institutions" The Economic Journal, ueaa127 (January 20, 2021) https://doi.org/10.1093/ej/ueaa127 also here.

Urban areas tend to have low interpersonal social trust as conceptualized by Putnam and tend to rely more on government institutions and on numerous, low quality ties, and to be more tolerant of diversity. See especially, "The Rise of the Creative Class" by Richard Florida.

Since social trust as defined by Putnam aligns closely with partisan affiliation, it is hard to attribute "partisanship" or "political polarization" generally, in political system as a whole to it.

What the literature does show is that whites in areas with high social trust as defined by Putnam exhibit a very high degree of racial block voting, with whites showing very high rights of shared partisan preference (these days for Republicans, prior to realignment, for Southern Democrats), and that racial block voting in far less common in the urban north (especially in the suburbs) (see a discussion generally here).

Other literature notes that geographical political segregation is heavily influenced by self-segregations. See Brown, J.R., Enos, R.D., "The measurement of partisan sorting for 180 million voters." Nat Hum Behav (March 8, 2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01066-z This and other factors (like the clear alignment of parties and ideologies at the moment) have led to record few split tickets.

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