Trust in institutions in the South Caucasus – generating a combined score

Trust in institutions is a widely studied subject in the social sciences – typing ‘trust in institutions’ into Google Scholar yields roughly 2.5 million results. It is generally believed to have multi-directional relationships with different aspects of social life, with high levels of trust associated with positive phenomena – acceptance of innovation and a good business environment just to name two. While the Social Science in the Caucasus blog has often looked at trust in social and political institutions in each country with a focus on the peculiarities of each country or a particular institution, to date there has not been a description of the overall level of trust in these institutions in each South Caucasus country by major demographic characteristics, such as gender, age or settlement type. This blog post fills the gap by looking at the average level of trust in institutions using 2013 Caucasus Barometer data.

To measure the average level of trust in social and political institutions, a trust in institutions scale was generated for this blog post. The scale was created by adding together responses for the 15 trust in institutions questions asked on the Caucasus Barometer (CB) survey: the health care system, banks, the educational system, the army, the court system, NGOs, parliament, executive government, the president, the police, political parties, media, local government, the religious institution the respondent belongs to, the ombudsman. Respondents in all three South Caucasus countries were asked “Please assess your level of trust toward each [institution] on a 5-point scale, where ‘1’ means “Fully distrust”, and ‘5’ means “Fully trust’.” The original scale was re-coded for this blog post in the following way: codes 1 and 2 (fully distrust and distrust) re-coded as -1; code 3, corresponding to answer “neither trust nor distrust,” re-coded as 0; and codes 4 and 5 (trust and fully trust) re-coded as 1. Scores for each of the 15 institutions were added together in order to generate a trust in institutions scale with -15 on this scale corresponding to distrust to every institution asked about, and 15 corresponding to trust in each of the 15 institutions. By taking the average score in each country, we are provided with a picture of how much South Caucasians trust their countries’s major social and political institutions in general, rather than the individual institutions which were asked about.

Without further ado, the results demonstrate that, overall, Armenia is the least institution trusting country in the South Caucasus – by a wide margin. Armenia’s average score is -1.4, while Azerbaijan and Georgia score 3.2 and 3.3, respectively.

Notably, women are slightly more trusting than men in each country. Trust also varies by settlement type and a clear pattern emerges when looking at Armenia and Georgia – trust in institutions is highest in rural settlements followed by urban settlements and the capital. Even in institution distrusting Armenia, the rural population comes in with an almost positive trust score of -0.1. In Azerbaijan, rural settlements still exhibit the highest levels of trust in institutions, but in Baku there is a slightly higher level of trust than in other urban settlements.

No clear cross-country pattern can be observed as regards trust in institutions by age, but each country does have its own distinctive pattern in this respect. In Armenia, the youngest age group is most trusting of institutions – a possible sign of optimism among the youth. Trust decreases with age in Armenia. In Azerbaijan, trust in institutions is slightly lower in the younger age groups and highest in the oldest one.  In Georgia, the youngest and oldest age groups report more or less similar levels of trust (3.2 and 3.0 average scores respectively), with the middle age group (36-55 year olds) reporting trusting institutions most.

In the three South Caucasus countries, the overall trust in social and political institutions is lowest in Armenia. In each country, women express slightly more trust than men, and rural residents report the highest trust. In Azerbaijan, the elderly have the most trust in institutions and in Armenia the least.

To explore the data on trust in institutions more, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool here.

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