Title page for ETD etd-04162009-084910

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Lemieux, Susan Quinn
Author's Email Address lemieuxs@cox.net
URN etd-04162009-084910
Title Public Opinion and Policy Liberalism in Louisiana: Does Political Trust Have an Effect?
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
James C. Garand Committee Chair
Robert Hogan Committee Member
William Clark Committee Member
  • government spending
  • public opinion
  • political trust
Date of Defense 2009-04-06
Availability unrestricted
Representative democracy is based on the principle that government should be responsive to citizen wishes; thus government policy should reflect those wishes. Research on public opinion supports this (Erikson, Wright, and McIver 1987). While many scholars agree that public opinion affects policy outcomes, they disagree as to which aspect of public opinion policy outcomes emerge.

Hetherington (2005) argues political trust explains policy liberalism. Using national-level data he demonstrates that decreased support for progressive policy results from decreased trust in government. Moreover, he finds that trust affects support for spending only when individuals are asked to sacrifice their self-interests and when the sacrifice entails a perceived risk. But does trust matter at the state level? To answer this I replicate his study using state-level data. Through OLS regression, using survey data from the 2002 Louisiana Survey, I model policy liberalism in Louisiana as a function of trust in state government, and the other political, demographic and socioeconomic variables examined in Hetherington’s study to determine if trust affects support for government spending and if its effect is conditioned by ideology, beneficiary status, and attitudes towards the perceived beneficiaries of state spending. Assuming that citizens connect taxes paid to the funding of state policy, I also consider if trust affects support for state taxation.

I find political trust affects support for welfare spending; a policy, according to Hetherington, that entails sacrifice and perceived risk. Its effect is mediated by ideology and racial attitudes, but not by beneficiary status. Regarding support for taxation, I find the effect of trust is accentuated. However, it is not conditioned by ideology, beneficiary status, or racial affect.

In Louisiana, trust in government does affect citizen support for progressive policy. Moreover, it affects their support for taxation; thus, it shapes their willingness to pay for certain policy. Because many liberal policies require individuals to support government spending when it does not operate in accordance with their self-interest, trust in government to deliver policies ethically, efficiently, and without waste is vital. Without it, government may be unable to implement policy to solve social ills and ensure representation of minority interests.

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