Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
In my dissertation, I study the causes and consequences of political trust and satisfaction with democracy in Eastern Europe. The extent to which citizens trust key political institutions has significant ramifications for their political behavior, for electoral dynamics, and for the consolidation of democracy in a country. Three major questions about how citizens evaluate the performance of democracy and democratic institutions have shaped my research: (1) the causes of political trust; (2) the effect of media exposure on political attitudes; and (3) the political behavior of dissatisfied citizens. Thus, I investigate the main factors that explain political trust and satisfaction with democracy and then explore the consequences of such political attitudes for electoral behavior. My findings suggest that the intensity of political competition--and the extent to which opposition parties criticize, and expose the misdeeds of the government--has a significant effect on trust in political institutions. I also find that exposure to foreign owned media, which rely on sensationalist coverage, depresses political trust and satisfaction with democracy. The opposite is the case for state-owned media because most state-owned media in Eastern Europe are controlled by the governing parties of the day and, thus, the news coverage tends to be more positive and focuses less on the failures and more on the achievements of the government. As for the effect of political attitudes on electoral behavior, I find that citizens who do not trust key political institutions are less likely to be civically active and turn out to vote. If they do vote, however, I show that dissatisfied citizens are far more likely to vote for extreme nationalist and radical left parties than for other more moderate non-mainstream parties.