Measuring Political Trust: Recognising the Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions


  • Marie-Louise Mangion University of Malta
  • George Frendo



Political trust, scale development, construct measurement, public regulatory institution, drivers of trust, institutional trust


Citizens’ trust is fundamental to the proper functioning of public institutions. This paper explores
how the construct of ‘political trust’ can be measured to reflect the underlying theoretical factors driving trust
levels. It proposes a quantitative methodology to develop a scale that measures trust in public regulatory
institutions. Some measurements of trust are dependent on a scale for questions such as ‘What is your level of
trust in…?’ Alternatively, composite indicators are used, based on, for example, trust levels in a set of public
institutions. Such measures do not recognise what influences a citizen’s trust. The methodology presented
here is also a composite measure but incorporates nine drivers and their extent of influence on a citizen’s
trust. These drivers, identified through a literature review on political trust, include consistency, transparency,
outcomes, competence, integrity, openness and inclusiveness, fairness, reliability and responsiveness. The
proposed methodology follows four steps: (i) It determines drivers that citizens recognise as influential on
their trust in a regulatory institution; (ii) it establishes the extent to which the drivers are influential; (iii) the
institution is rated on a scale for each factor; and (iv) each factor rating is weighted on the extent of its
influence and a weighted average is computed to determine the level of trust. This methodology was applied
to measure trust in Malta’s environmental authorities following a demerger. A survey was conducted with the
questionnaire’s design reflecting this methodology. The empirical findings confirmed that all these factors lead
to trust, but variations in the extent to which each driver influences a citizen’s trust exist. Responsiveness,
outcomes, integrity and openness emerged as slightly less influential on citizens’ trust, whereas fairness,
consistency, reliability, transparency and competence were the most influential factors. Significant differences
are recorded when comparing methods of measuring trust for the two institutions. This composite measure
recognises the multidimensional nature of trust, is grounded in the construct’s theoretical foundations and
provides reasons for variations in trust levels. Institutions can adopt this approach as a tool to regularly
monitor citizens’ trust and identify areas requiring attention.