We argue that citizens’ trust attitudes are inversely related to party polarization because polarization tends to encourage political conflict, which most people dislike. We further posit that partisans trust attitudes are driven by the ideological extremity of the opposing and their own parties for similar reasons. Using roll-call-based estimates of state legislative party polarization and public opinion data collected in 2008, we show strong evidence in favor of our theory: higher levels of party polarization within legislative chambers depresses citizens’ trust in their legislatures. Among partisans, we also find that trust attitudes respond to the ideological extremity of the opposing party but not to a citizen’s own party’s extremity. We further find that as citizens’ interest in politics increases, they react more strongly to polarization when forming their trust attitudes. Finally, partisans become less responsive to the ideological extremity of the opposing party as they become more politically interested.
- state legislatures