Where The Two Trusts Meet: How Social Trust Influences Political Trust In The New Media Environment

Do Eon Lee, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

In the modern democratic society, where it is difficult to get to know politicians in person or to fully internalize the complex political system, news articles strongly influence the forming and updating of political trust. Technical developments have created the layer of one’s personal network between traditional media and its audience by allowing one to share any article with a few clicks. Reflecting this change in how one shares information, this dissertation investigates how online social trust influences one’s political trust, a more deep-seated attitude.

There is little agreement on how to conceptualize and measure political trust. Study 1 shows how the NPTMS (New Political Trust Measurement Survey) demonstrates a gap between how the public creates the meaning of political trust and how scholars do. It then proposes more reliable and valid measures of political trust. To better simulate information exchange online, this dissertation introduces the concept of OIST (online interpersonal social trust), trust in a particular person from one’s online social networks. Study 2 looks at the factors that lead to OIST and explores how to manipulate it in an experimental setting. By combining two different manipulation strategies—partner profile and flashcard exercise—OIST was successfully manipulated without influencing other types of social trust. Based on the NPTMS and OIST manipulation strategies, Study 3 connects OIST with political trust and experimentally demonstrates that they are causally related but moderated by the valence of the shared; receiving an article negatively depicting the government from a person one trusts resulted in a lower level of trust in the subjects of the article.

This dissertation uses OIST to also reflect the recent changes in how the public consumes news. It offers evidence that “regular people,” who are not necessarily experts or opinion leaders in a particular subject, can make others significantly readjust their levels of political trust. As an increasing number of people consume news through their online social networks, we should note that each individual can influence another’s trust in government, and that the effect may accumulate with continued interactions.