Never trust a politician? Collective distrust, relational accountability, and voter response

Susan T. Fiske, Federica Durante

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

24 Scopus citations


Voters are good at detecting phonies. A google search for “fake” and the name of a losing American presidential candidate the day after the election yielded cynical comments about his fake tan, his staged charity, his fictive heritage, his fraudulent polls, and his rigged voting machines. The winner did little better, but, on average, polled as more motivated to serve the interests of middle-class voters. The candidate–voter dynamic depends on politicians being trusted not to put their own self-interest (gaining and keeping power) over that of the voters who elect them. We argue here that trust is a critical – if not the critical – judgment that voters make. Every few years, voters evaluate candidates, and political leaders result. Much ink, many minutes, and even more bytes analyze elections both formally (political science) and informally (public media). But elections are about people, and social psychologists know a lot about people. We come to this project as social psychologists interested in how people make sense of individuals as group members and groups as society members. As we will show, politicians are acknowledged to be powerful, but are disliked and distrusted around the world. We argue that the politician-versus-citizen distrust depends on a failure of relational accountability, citizens’ lacking trust in politicians’ shared intentions. Politicians have a goal to get and maintain power, and voters have a goal to elect politicians who will represent their interests and adopt competent policies. Knowing for sure only that a candidate wants to win power, voters must infer whether the candidate genuinely cares about anything else, and, if so, represents their long-term shared interests. Apparently most politicians consistently fail on this dimension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPower, Politics, and Paranoia
Subtitle of host publicationWhy People are Suspicious of their Leaders
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781139565417
ISBN (Print)9781107035805
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Never trust a politician? Collective distrust, relational accountability, and voter response'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this