Moral opinion polarization and the erosion of trust

Soc Sci Res. 2016 Jul;58:34-45. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2016.02.008. Epub 2016 Mar 2.


Since Puntam's seminal work on declining levels of social capital, the question of how social trust is formed has reached unprecedented heights of critical enquiry. While most of the current research concentrates on ethnic diversity and income inequality as the main influences driving down generalized trust, we focus on opinion polarization as another potential impact factor on trust. In more detail, we investigate the extent to which polarization over morally charged issues such as homsexuality, abortion and euthanasia affects individuals' likelihood to trust others. We hypothesize that moral issues have a natural tendency to divide societies' opinions into opposing poles and, thus, to challenge social cohesion in modern civil societies. Based on hierarchical analyses of the fifth wave of the World Values Survey (WVS) - comprising a sample of 39 countries - our results reveal that individuals living in countries characterized by more opinion polarization tend to have less trust in other people.

Keywords: Moral politics; Opinion polarization; Social trust; World Values Survey.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Legal
  • Attitude
  • Euthanasia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Pregnancy
  • Social Capital*
  • Trust*