The Politics of Trust (in the USA) - PO616

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
6 15 (7.5) DR A Wroe


PO617 Contemporary Politics and Government in the USA


Stage 3 only. Students must have completed PO617 before taking this module. This module is not available to short term/exchange students.



Much recent academic and popular commentary has focused on citizens’ supposed mistrust of government, especially in the United States of America. The central aim of the Politics of Trust is to uncover the reasons for Americans’ malaise. However, students will also examine other western democracies where trust has fallen to see if these countries’ experiences can inform our understanding of the US case specifically and the politics of trust more generally. The course begins with a history of trust in America, with an overview of the putative reasons for declining trust in the post-World War II period, with an examination of the experiences of other western democracies. The second part turns to the specific explanations for declining trust as posited by academics and political commentators. Explanations include the crisis of government performance, spin, the internecine warfare between Republicans and Democrats, the changing nature of the modern labour market, declining social capital, and the media.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

150 hours including 22 hours lecture/seminar; 128 study hours

Method of assessment

50% coursework (1000 word review (15%), 2500 word essay (35%)), 50% exam (2hr)

Indicative reading

Dionne, EJ Jr. Why Americans Hate Politics ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991)
Esler, G The United States of Anger: The People and the American Dream ( London: Penguin Books , 1997 )
Norris P (ed.) Critical Citizens: Global Support for Democratic Governance ( Oxford: Oxford University Press , 1999 )
Nye, JS Jr., Zelikow PK & King DC (eds.) Why People Don’t Trust Government ( Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997 )
Dalton Russell, Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices (Oxford University Press, 2004)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students will:
- Have a good knowledge of the American political system and many of the problems it faces;
- Understand the role and significance of trust in political systems;
- Understand the various competing explanations as to why Americans specifically and citizens generally distrust government;
- Be able to think critically about the competing explanations for distrust of government;
- Critique the literature to identify potential 'holes' in the current research;
- Use comparative analysis to inform their thinking.

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