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How Fraternal Deprivation Drives Mistrust in Government among Whites

Fri, November 12, 9:00 to 10:30am EST (9:00 to 10:30am EST), Virtual


Scholars have argued that government policies seeking to address racial inequality contributed to a decline in trust in the federal government (“public trust”) among white Americans who viewed these policies as unfairly imposing costs on whites but benefiting only Blacks. However, the effect of racial policy on public trust waned over time (Hetherington 1998, 2005). Others have shown that the effect of racial policy on public trust has been integrated in whites’ broader racial schemas creating long-lasting associations between racial prejudice and mistrust in government (Filindra, Kaplan, and Buyuker 2021). In this study, we focus on a different group-level mechanism that may have contributed to whites’ mistrust in government: fraternal deprivation (Gurr 1970; Runciman 1966). Scholars have shown that people do not evaluate the political context in absolute terms, but judge outcomes relative to an internal standard. Frequently these comparisons are not at the individual but at the group level. These assessments pit what people believe the experience of the group is to what they think it should be had a fair standard been employed (Tyler and Lind 2002). Studies show that fraternal deprivation is both distinct from prejudice an important predictor of political preferences and political behavior (Bobo 1988; Kluegel and Smith 1982; Vanneman and Pettigrew 1972). Consequently, perceptions that whites are targets of racial discrimination may lead to suspicion of the federal government and unwillingness to trust its motives. Given that government is viewed as the arbiter who should treat groups on fair scales, trust in government should be correlated with perceptions about the fair or unfair treatment of the ingroup, controlling for prejudice and policy preferences. As a result, we expect that among whites, perceptions of ingroup discrimination—a measure of fraternal deprivation—should dampen trust in government. We test our theory using the 2012, 2016, and 2020 ANES datasets, three nationally representative studies that include a measure of perceptions of discrimination among whites (earlier waves do not). We find that controlling for racial prejudice (anti-Black stereotypes) and racial policy preferences, among other relevant factors, the belief that whites experience discrimination is a negative and statistically significant predictor of trust in the federal government.