Concerns with declining public trust in government have become a permanent element of the contemporary political discourse. This concern also extends to levels of citizens’ trust in the public administration and public services. Trust is said to be declining, and this decline is generally seen as detrimental to public service delivery. In this article, we examine the main elements in this discussion, review the existing international survey data and summarise the main findings for OECD countries. Citizens’ trust in the public sector is found to fluctuate, and the data generally do not show consistently declining levels of trust. Furthermore, in some countries there simply is insufficient data to come to any conclusions at all about time trends in citizen trust in the public sector. Points for practitioners This article summarises some of the survey material on citizens’ trust in the public administration. It allows practitioners to compare trends in public trust in their country across time and space. The findings lead us to reject the hypothesis of a universal decline of trust in the public sector. The article warns against using opinion poll results without considering context. The long-term and comparative perspective on citizens’ trust in the public sector is all too often absent from the policy discourse that is frequently based on assumptions and ad-hoc approaches.

citizen-government relations, comparative public administration, public opinion, trust in government
dx.doi.org/10.1177/0020852307085733, hdl.handle.net/1765/13607
International Review of Administrative Sciences: an international journal of comparative public administration
Department of Public Administration

Van de Walle, S.G.J, van Roosbroek, S, & Bouckaert, G. (2008). Trust in the public sector: Is there any evidence for a long-term decline?. International Review of Administrative Sciences: an international journal of comparative public administration, 74(1), 47–64. doi:10.1177/0020852307085733