Local Political Trust: The Antecedents and Effects on Earthquake Victims' Choice for Allocation of Resources

Article excerpt

On May 12th, 2008, a strong earthquake struck the Sichuan province in China. More than 46 million people suffered adverse effects from this disaster. During the postearthquake rehabilitation and reconstruction process, the process of contact between the victims and the government triggered a series of social problems which require analysis. Complaints and suspicion regarding the inefficient management of disaster relief allocation were prevalent, despite the hard work put in by the government. Local government officials were confronted with a significant challenge in gaining the victims' satisfaction with their work. In recent years, low estimation by the public about the quality of the government in a number of advanced industrial democracies has inspired a renewed focus on political trust in the social sciences (Barber, 1983; Hibbing & Theiss-Morse, 2001; Miller, 1974; Putnam, Leonardi, & Nanetti, 1993). However, while numerous attempts have been made to identify the determinants and consequences of political trust in America, as well as in some European countries, relatively little research on this topic has been undertaken in Asia (Hetherington & Nugent, 2001; Rudolph & Evans, 2005; Scholz & Lubell, 1998; Tyler & Degoey, 1995; Yamagishi & Yamagishi, 1994). Our aim in the present study was to explore the role of local political trust in the context of postearthquake rehabilitation and reconstruction in China.

Policy Appraisal and Perceived Support from Government as Antecedents

Based on the multifaceted character of trust, Kim (2005) synthesized definitions used in previous studies and conceptualized trust as the willingness of a trustor to be vulnerable based on the belief that the trustee will meet the expectations of the trustor, even in situations where the trustor cannot monitor or control the trustee. The prevailing difference between political trust and personal trust is the consideration of institutional settings (Ruscio, 1999). As with individuals, the question of whether or not one can reasonably trust institutions comes down to the question of whether or not institutions can be trustworthy (Braithwaite & Levi, 1998). What influences people's relationships with their government? According to the definition of political trust, people trust a government when that government produces outcomes consistent with the people's expectations. Policy outcomes, as agreed by many scholars, are central to this relationship (Miller, 1974; Nye, Zelikow, & King, 1997). People trust their government more when they receive their desired policy outcomes (Owen & Dennis, 2001). Although policy satisfaction is an important factor in the public's relationship with the government, a great deal of variation exists, which requires explanation (Hibbing & Theiss-Morse, 2001). Ulbig (2002) names policy appraisal as a concept including both the policy outcomes and the policy process, and claims that the process by which these policies develop are also shown to be sources of governmental trust. Results of previous research in the procedural justice area support the finding that people are concerned not only with the outcomes of decision-making processes, but also with the procedural aspects of that process (Folger & Konovsky, 1989; Thibaut & Walker, 1975). People care about having a voice in the decision-making process and prefer the decision-making body to be neutral, trustworthy, and respectful of the participant (Wang & Wart, 2007). Thus, in this study, policy appraisal, including both output and process, is considered to be an antecedent of political trust.

When confronted with situations such as a natural disaster, for example, an earthquake, one of the most important jobs for the government is to provide sufficient support to victims. The term support originally comes from the definition of social support. Social support refers to support that stems from one's relationships with others, including emotional support, informational support, diffuse support, and instrumental support (Cohen & Wills, 1985). …