Perceived Ideological Distance and Trust in Congress

Justin H. Kirkland, Kevin K. Banda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: We evaluate whether citizens’ trust in Congress is influenced by perceptions of ideological distance between themselves and their representatives. We argue that citizens view members as the “face” of Congress, and thus trust the institution more when the face of that institution is more ideologically proximal to themselves. Methods: We test our hypotheses using responses to survey questions regarding both trust in Congress and perceptions of ideological distance between respondents and members of Congress in the 2008 and 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. We then pair these observational survey data with a survey experiment administered by Qualtrics in 2016. Results: Ordinal logistic regressions from our survey data evince strong empirical support for our arguments, showing that as perceived ideological distance between a respondent and her member of Congress increases, trust in Congress as a whole declines. These observational analyses are corroborated by our survey experiment, which again shows that as perceptions of ideological distance increase, trust in legislatures declines. Conclusions: Our results suggest that a lack of faith in legislative institutions is often the result of a failure of representation. One way to restore Americans’ trust in Congress is for members to demonstrate more fidelity to the ideological leanings of their constituents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1810-1827
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2019


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