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Hierarchical Government Trust in China

Lianjiang Li

Department of Government and Public Administration

Chinese University of Hong Kong

Email: [email protected]

Paper prepared for the IIAS Study Group Workshop on Trust in Public Administration and

Citizen Attitudes held in Seoul, Korea, December 11-12, 2012

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Hierarchical Government Trust in China

Abstract

Drawing on the 2008 China Survey, this paper argues that hierarchical government trust, i.e., having stronger confidence in central leaders than in local authorities, reflects hidden distrust in central leaders. The evidence comes from two observations. First, respondents who were less satisfied with government policies and the state of political democracy in the country expressed stronger distrust in central leaders. Second, regardless of their expressed trust in central leaders, holders of hierarchical trust were significantly less satisfied with government policies and the state of democracy than holders of equal trust were. Insofar as dissatisfactions generate or enhance distrust, the two observations suggest that holders of hierarchical trust had in substantive terms less trust in central leaders than holders of equal trust do. The paper concludes that public confidence in China’s central leaders is considerably weaker than it looks on grounds that national surveys consistently have shown that about fifty percent of the people who sound confident about the central government hold hierarchical trust.

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Hierarchical Government Trust in China

Target of political trust has multiple dimensions. Public confidence varies for incumbent politicians, government institutions and political systems (e.g., Easton, 1965, pp.171–219; Abramson and Finifter, 1981, p.298; Craig et al., 1990). As regards national political institutions, citizens have varying confidence in the legislature, the executive and the judiciary (e.g., Citrin and Muste, 1999; Fisher et al., 2010; but see Hooghe, 2011). For a politician, the public has different amount of trust in his commitment, capacity and integrity

(e.g., Abramson, 1972; Citrin and Muste, 1999; Hetherington, 2004). Furthermore, regarding the same aspect of a political leader, e.g., his capabilities, public confidence varies on domains of issue such as domestic affairs and international relations (e.g., Barber, 1983; Levi and Stoker, 2000, p. 499).

A vertical dimension emerges when the object of trust is a multilevel government, as people have varying confidence in local, regional and national governments (e.g., Ambler,

1975, p.31). Trust in multilevel government has four major patterns, as individuals may have equal trust or distrust in all levels and may have stronger or weaker trust in national government than in sub-national levels. Citizens of electoral democracies, e.g., the United

States, Japan and Taiwan, tend to have weaker confidence in the federal/national government than in the local government (e.g., Pew Research Center, 1998, p.15; 2010, pp.40-42; Cole and Kincaid, 2000; Chang and Chu, 2008, p.101). An explanation of this “paradox of distance” (Frederickson, 1997, p.187) is that stronger electoral ties between voters and local authorities enhance popular trust (Jennings, 1998).

Researchers, however, have yet to systematically examine the opposite of “paradox of distance,” which is having stronger confidence in national government than in local authorities. Hierarchical government trust, as it is called in this study, is more prevalent in

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authoritarian countries. In Asia, for instance, between 30 to 40 percent of the populations in

Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Singapore, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Viet Nam were observed to have stronger trust in the central government than in local government (Asian Barometer

Surveys, 2002, 2006, 2008; AsiaBarometer Surveys, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006). Hierarchical trust is particularly prevalent in China, where it was held by 30 to 60 percent of the population (Asian Barometer Surveys, 2002, 2008: Q008, Q014; AsiaBarometer Surveys,

2003, Q21_a, Q21_b; 2006: Q29a, Q29b).

The prevalence of hierarchical trust in China constitutes a counterpoint to the controversial finding that over eighty percent of the population trust the central government

(World Values Survey, 2000: V153; Asian Barometer Surveys, 2002, 2008: Q008;

AsiaBarometer Surveys, 2003, Q21_a; 2006: Q29a). Skeptics dismiss such survey results on grounds that under one-party authoritarian rule self-reported trust in the central government is merely a “response to social pressures and political control” (e.g., Newton, 2001, p.208).

Survey researchers, however, contend that there is little evidence that political caution seriously compromises the validity and reliability of survey data about politically sensitive issues such as political trust (Shi, 2001, pp.406-407; Tsai, 2007, p.357). The phenomenon of hierarchical trust brings up another possibility – perhaps observed distrust in local government reflects distrust in the central government. Since local government leaders are appointed directly or indirectly by the central government, distrust in local government may well reflect partial distrust in the central government, at least doubts about its capabilities to choose, monitor and control local authorities (see Li, 2004). If this is the case, among the people who give the same answer to the single broad survey question about trust in the central government, those who express weaker confidence in local authorities may have weaker confidence in central leaders in substantive terms (see Li, 2012). Does hierarchical trust reflect hidden distrust in the central government?

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Drawing on a recent national survey, this paper addresses the question. It proceeds as follows. After a brief discussion about the data, hypothesis and method of analysis, it examines the substance of expressed trust in central leaders by identifying its key determinants. It then describes relative distrust in local authorities, which distinguishes hierarchical trust from having equal trust in all levels of government. The fourth section examines whether relative distrust in local authorities reflects distrust in central leaders by analyzing whether it is systematically correlated with identified determinants of expressed trust in central leaders. The last section explores sources and implications of hierarchical trust. The paper concludes with a discussion about how studying trust in local government helps assess confidence in central government in authoritarian countries like China.

Data, Hypothesis and Methods of Analysis

The data comes from the 2008 China Survey, which is a project of the College of

Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University in collaboration with the Research Center for

Contemporary China at Peking University (see Appendix 1 for information on sampling, weighting and missing data imputation). The survey tapped trust in county, provincial and central government leaders by asking respondents to indicate their level of confidence on a four-point scale, i.e., <1> “trust very much” (recoded as 4), <2> “trust somewhat” (recoded as 3), <3> “do not trust much” (recoded as 2) and <4> “do not trust at all” (recoded as 1) (see

Appendix 2 for variable descriptions). Corroborating results of previous studies, the survey showed that over 85 percent of respondents expressed strong or modest confidence in central leaders. The survey also showed that trust in central leaders was remarkably higher than trust in provincial and county leaders. While 44.6 percent of 3,989 respondents trusted central leaders very much, respectively 24.3 and 17.1 percent felt the same about provincial and county leaders (see Table 1 for details).

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[Table 1 about here]

Four patterns emerged when it came to examining how individual respondents assessed the trustworthiness of the three different levels of government leaders. The most prevalent pattern was hierarchical trust. Among 3,989 respondents, 1,160 individuals expressed strong trust in central leaders and weaker trust in provincial and/or county leaders, another 544 individuals expressed modest trust in central leaders and weaker trust in provincial and/or county leaders, totaling 1,704 (42.7 percent).

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The second most common pattern was having equal trust in all three levels of government authorities. Among 3,989 respondents, 554 individuals showed strong trust in all three levels, another 1,038 people showed modest trust in all three levels, totaling 1,592 (39.9 percent). The other two patterns were clear minorities, as 11 percent of respondents had strong or modest distrust in all three levels and 6.3 percent had modest or strong distrust in central leaders but stronger confidence in provincial and/or county officials. The results are largely corroboratory with those of the

Asian Barometer and AsiaBarometer surveys (see Table 2).

[Table 2 about here]

All four patterns deserve scrutiny. It would be interesting to examine why some people are equally distrustful about all three levels of government leaders and how systematic distrust may affect behavioral orientations and regime preferences. Equally interesting is the

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Had the survey asked about trust in township/street government officials, who sit at the bottom of the government hierarchy and tend to have lowest popular trust, more respondents would have shown hierarchical trust.

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pattern of having weaker trust in central leaders than in local authorities. Despite their apparent similarities, the Chinese version of “paradox of distance” has richer political implications than its counterpart does in electoral democracies. In the United States, for instance, the fact that people tend to place more confidence in local government than in the federal government is little more than an embarrassment for politicians in Washington DC, because each level of governments is separately elected and has independent sources of popular trust. In China, however, local government authorities depend on the central leadership for both power and legitimacy (e.g., Burns, 1999; Chan, 2004). Since Chinese central leaders always guard against popular local politicians for fear of “independent kingdoms” (e.g., Zhong, 2003; Landry, 2008; L.C. Li, 2010), the Chinese version of “paradox of distance” could be regarded as a threat by central leaders in Beijing if it is concentrated in particular regions.

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This study focuses on the two common patterns. It compares respondents who showed stronger confidence in central leaders than in local authorities with those who showed equal trust in both central and local authorities. The research hypothesis is that hierarchical trust reflects hidden distrust in central leaders. Put it differently, it is hypothesized that, although they express the same level of confidence in central leaders, holders of hierarchical trust have weaker confidence in central leaders in substantive terms than holders of equal trust do.

John Stuart Mill’s “method of difference” (see Lijphart, 1971) was used to test the hypothesis. The analysis proceeded in four steps. First, multiple regression was used to

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The pattern allows for two other alternative readings. One is that it is data noise, resulting from misunderstanding and/or miscommunication between interviewers and respondents. The other interpretation is that the pattern indicates exceptionally strong distrust in central leaders, as respondents might intend to highlight distrust in central leaders by exaggerating trust in local authorities.

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identify perceptions that were systematically correlated with expressed trust in central leaders. The identified determinants were then used as criteria of comparison (see Kalleberg,

1966; Teune and Przeworski, 1970; Lasswell, 1978). Second, relative distrust in local authorities was defined as the distinction between the pattern of hierarchical trust and the pattern of equal trust. Third, comparison of means was conducted to see if holders of hierarchical trust and holders of equal trust had equal scores on the identified criteria of comparison. Lastly, multiple regressions were conducted to ascertain if observed differences in mean scores were statistically significant at the individual level. Since it relies on crosssectional data, the study makes no causal argument and focuses exclusively on identifying non-random correlations between variables.

Determinants of Expressed Trust in Central Leaders

Trust in government leaders is affected by policy outcomes, the competency and morality of political actors and the political process (e.g., Easton, 1965; Hart, 1978; Craig,

1993). The survey collected data on three perceptions that are likely to affect trust in central leaders. First, satisfaction with government policies is expected to be systematically associated with expressed trust in central leaders. When asked to indicate whether they agreed with “in general, I am basically satisfied with government policies” on a five-point ordinal scale, 32.99 percent of 3,989 respondents chose <1> “strongly agree” (recoded as 5),

53.22 percent chose <2> “somewhat agree” (recoded as 4), 6.44 percent chose <3> percent

“neither agree nor disagree,” 5.69 percent chose <4> “somewhat disagree” (recoded as 2) and

1.65 percent chose <5> “strongly disagree” (recoded as 1). The fact that over 85 percent of respondents were satisfied with government policies suggests that respondents might well have “central government policies” in mind when they answered the question. In Chinese political discourse it is well understood that “government policies” (

zhengfu zhengce

)

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typically refers to laws and polices promulgated by the central government, although it does not have “central” as a qualifier. Satisfaction with government policies is expected to strengthen confidence in central leaders, while dissatisfaction is expected to weaken it.

Second, satisfaction with the performance of the central government is expected to affect confidence in central leaders (Tang and Yang, 2010, Kim and Vorhees, 2011; cf.

Espinal et al. 2003). Corroborating results of an earlier study (Saich 2007), the survey observed that respondents were generally quite positive about the performance of the central government. When asked to indicate their degree of satisfaction with the work of the central government, 3,989 respondents had an average score of 8.14 on an 11-point scale, ranging from extremely unsatisfied (coded as 0) to extremely satisfied (coded as 10). Satisfaction with the performance of the central government is expected to strength confidence in central leaders, while dissatisfaction is expected to weaken it.

Lastly, perceived severity of the problem of political democracy in the country is expected to affect trust in central leaders. Although the term “political democracy” has multiple meanings in China, ranging from Confucian paternalism, consultative leadership style to electoral accountability (see Peng, 1998; Shi, 2008; Shi and Lu, 2010), it is generally understood that central leaders are responsible for political democracy in the country. The survey showed that the Chinese people were rather complacent about the state of democracy.

When asked to indicate the degree to which they found political democracy a serious problem in the country, 3,989 respondents scored an average of 4.16 on an 11-point scale, which ranges from 0 (indicating that political democracy is not a problem at all) to 10 (indicating that it is an extremely serious problem). For the sake of convenience, perceived severity of the problem of political democracy was reformulated as satisfaction with the state of political democracy in the country. Satisfaction with the state of political democracy is expected to strength confidence in central leaders, while dissatisfaction is expected to weaken it.

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To determine if the three predictors of interest had systematic and independent effects on expressed trust in central leaders, three other perceptions that might affect trust in central leaders were controlled. First, satisfaction with the performance of county government was controlled. It turned out that respondents were much less satisfied with the performance of county government, as 3,989 respondents had a average score of 6.52 on an 11-point scale, ranging from extremely unsatisfied (coded as 0) to extremely satisfied (coded as 10). Since county government leaders are appointed indirectly by the central leaders, satisfaction with the performance of county government may affect trust in central leaders.

The second control variable is the perception of the severity of corruption, as it has been observed to affect trust in government elsewhere (e.g., Chanley et al., 2000; Anderson and Tverdova, 2003; Morris and Klesner, 2010). As it can be expected, many respondents were quite concerned about corruption. When asked to indicate the degree to which they found corruption a serious problem in the country, 3,989 respondents scored an average of

7.09 on an 11-point scale, which ranges from 0 (corruption is not a problem at all) to 10

(corruption is an extremely serious problem). People who find corruption a serious problem may have weaker confidence in central leaders, while those find no problem of corruption in the country may have stronger confidence.

Also controlled was life satisfaction, which has been found to affect trust in government in China and elsewhere (Chen, 2004, p.111; Catterberg and Moreno, 2006, p.43).

Life satisfaction was tapped in three aspects. Respondents were asked to indicate their degrees of satisfaction with (1) household income, (2) life in general and (3) current job on an

11-point scale, ranging from 0 (not satisfied at all) to 10 (satisfied very much). The three indicators were then used to construct a simple summation index (Cronbach’s alpha=.84).

People who are more satisfied with their lives are expected to have stronger trust in central leaders.

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Four demographic background variables were also controlled. Membership of the

Communist Party was controlled, as Landry (2012) finds that party members do not have more confidence in central leaders than non-members do. Age, gender and education were controlled, as they have an independent effect on political trust in electoral democracies (e.g.,

Agger et al., 1961; Cole, 1973; Abramson, 1983). Survey researches in China, however, have mixed results about the effects of age, gender and education. Tianjian Shi (2001) finds that demographic backgrounds have little impact on political trust in China. Li (2004) observes that men were more distrustful than women were. John Kennedy (2009) finds that government-controlled education can instill confidence in the ruling party.

Since trust in central leaders was measured on a four-point ordinal scale, an ordered logit model was fitted. Wald Test (see Williams, 2006) shows that all three predictors of interest meet the parallel regression assumption, which indicates that they have consistent effect on the ordinal measure of trust in central leaders. Results of the analysis are summarized in Table 3.

[Table 3 about here]

All three predictors of interest have significant effects on expressed trust in central leaders. Other things being equal, respondents who were more satisfied with government policies, more satisfied with the performance of the central government and more complacent with the state of political democracy in the country expressed stronger confidence in central leaders. Conversely, dissatisfaction on each of the three issues was associated with distrust in central leaders. The correlations were statistically highly significant (p < .001).

None of the three control variables had a significant and independent effect on trust in central leaders. Satisfaction with the performance of county government had no significant

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impact on trust in central leaders, which is hardly surprising because satisfaction with the performance of the central government was controlled. More interestingly, perception of corruption had no significant effect on trust in central leaders, which indicated that respondents tended to blame local authorities rather than central leaders for the problem of corruption. The pattern of blame attribution is corroborated by another observation of the survey. While 73.5 percent of 3,989 respondents regarded “ineffective law enforcement” as one of the top three causes of corruption, only 28.5 percent put “there is no law to follow” in that category. In China, it is well understood that the central government is responsible for making policies while local governments for policy implementation. Lastly, life satisfaction did not have a significant effect on trust in central leaders, which corroborates the observation of an earlier research (Li, 2011).

Among the four demographic variables, only age turned out to have a significant effect on trust in central leaders. Other things being equal, older people tended to feel more confident about central leaders. Men tended to be more distrustful, while members of the

Communist Party and the better educated tended to be more confident. The effects of these three factors, however, are statistically insignificant.

In sum, the regression analysis shows that satisfaction with government policies, satisfaction with the performance of the central government and complacency with the state of political democracy in the country have non-random correlations with expressed trust in central leaders. To the extent that underneath systematic correlations there may be causal relationships, the results suggest that the three perceptions can be considered possible determinants of expressed trust in central leaders. In the following analysis, this study treats the three identified determinants as proxy measures of the substance of expressed trust in central leaders. It uses them as criteria of comparison when exploring whether holders of hierarchical trust have weaker trust in central leaders than holders of equal trust do.

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Relative Distrust in Local Authorities

What separates holders of equal trust from holders of hierarchical trust is that the latter expressed weaker trust in provincial leaders and/or county leaders. This study calls the gap between trust in central leaders and trust in local leaders relative distrust in local authorities, which has three measures. First, relative distrust in provincial leaders is the gap between trust in central leaders and trust in provincial leaders, which ranges from 0 to 3.

Among 3,321 respondents who had strong or modest trust in central leaders, 36.4 percent had relative distrust in provincial leaders while others had none. It is worth noting that respondents with strong trust in central leaders were more likely to have relative distrust in provincial leaders. Among 1,714 respondents who showed strong trust in central leaders, 50 percent had relative distrust in provincial leaders. By contrast, among 1,607 respondents who showed modest trust in central leaders, 21.8 percent had relative distrust in provincial leaders.

Second, relative distrust in county leaders is the gap between trust in central leaders and trust in county leaders, which also ranges from 0 to 3. Among 3,324 respondents who had strong or modest trust in central leaders, 49.1 percent had relative distrust in county leaders while others did not. Similar to what has been observed with relative distrust in provincial leaders, respondents with strong trust in central leaders were more likely to have relative distrust in county leaders. Among 1,714 respondents who showed strong trust in central leaders, 66.1 percent had relative distrust in county leaders. By contrast, among 1,610 respondents who showed modest trust in central leaders, 31 percent had relative distrust in county leaders.

Lastly, relative distrust in provincial leaders and relative distrust in county leaders were weighted and summed up into an index of relative distrust in local authorities.

Weighting is based on the consideration that distrust in provincial leaders, who are directly

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appointed by central leaders, must have a larger detrimental effect on trust in central leaders than that of distrust in county leaders, who are indirectly appointed by central leaders. The exact weight, however, is difficult to determine. This study uses the ratio between the total amount of relative distrust in county leaders and the total amount of relative distrust in provincial leaders as the empirical basis for assigning weights. Since the sum of relative distrust in county leaders is 1.56 times as much as that of relative distrust in provincial leaders, the latter is considered 1.56 times heavier than the former. The weighted summation index of relative distrust in local authorities ranges from 0 to 7.68.

So defined, relative distrust in local authorities allows for two intuitive interpretations.

One reading is that relative distrust in local authorities is the net distrust in local authorities and it is independent of expressed trust in central leaders. Consequently, it is expected to be independent of the three identified determinants of expressed trust in central leaders, i.e., satisfaction with government policies, satisfaction with the performance of the central government and complacence about the state of political democracy in the country. In other words, holders of hierarchical trust are expected to be indistinguishable from holders of equal trust in terms of the three criteria of comparison. The other reading is that relative distrust in local authorities reflects extra trust in central leaders, as people may wish to highlight how strongly they trust central leaders by showing distrust in local authorities. In light of this interpretation, holders of hierarchical trust are expected to be more satisfied about government policies, the performance of the central government and the state of democracy.

The analyses below, however, show otherwise.

Comparison of Means

Comparison of means was employed to examine whether and how respondents who had relative distrust in local authorities were different from those who had none concerning

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the three perceptions that had systematic effects on expressed trust in central leaders. To facilitate comparison, the index of relative distrust in local authorities was transformed into a dichotomous variable, with 0 indicating having no relative distrust and 1 indicating having it.

Among 3,296 respondents who expressed strong or modest trust in central leaders fell into two groups, 51.7 percent had relative distrust in local authorities while others had none. Each group was then divided into two subgroups, depending on the strength of expressed trust in central leaders. Among 1,714 respondents who expressed strong trust in central leaders, 67.7 percent had relative distrust in local authorities while others had none. The two subgroups were compared with each other on the three identified criteria. Similarly, among 1,582 respondents who expressed modest trust in central leaders, 34.3 percent had relative distrust in local authorities while others had none. The two subgroups were compared with each other. The results are summarized in Table 4.

[Table 4 about here]

Neither of the two intuitive interpretations of the meaning of relative distrust in local authorities is supported. Contrary to the hypothesis of independence, respondents who had relative distrust had significantly different mean scores on the three criterion indicators than those who had none. All observed differences of mean scores between contrasting subgroups are statistically significant (p<.01). Furthermore, respondents who had relative distrust were significantly

less

satisfied than those who had none on all three criteria, i.e., less satisfied with government policies, less satisfied with the work of the central government and less complacent about the state of political democracy in the country. For instance, among respondents who expressed strong trust central leaders, those who had no relative distrust in local authorities had a mean score of 4.57 on the five-point scale of satisfaction with

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government policies, while those who had relative distrust had a mean score of 4.27, which is significantly lower (p <.001). Similarly, among respondents who expressed strong trust in central leaders, those who had no relative distrust in local authorities had a mean score of

3.068 on the 11-point scale of perceived severity of the problem of political democracy in the country, which indicates a high level of complacency. By contrast, those who had relative distrust had a mean score of 3.829, which indicates a significantly lower level of complacency (p <.001). The weakest correlation was observed between relative distrust in local authorities and satisfaction with the performance of the central government, but it is nonetheless statistically significant (p < .01). As long as dissatisfactions generate or enhance distrust, the results suggest that holders of hierarchical trust have in substantive terms significantly weaker confidence in central leaders than holders of equal trust do.

Regression Analyses

Results of means comparison do not always hold well at the individual level. In order to avoid ecological fallacy (e.g., Hammond, 1973), regression analyses were conducted to see if the aggregate correlations between relative distrust in local authorities and three identified determinants of trust in central leaders were statistically significant at the individual level.

Three models were fitted. Two ordered logit regression models treated, respectively, relative distrust in provincial leaders and relative distrust in county leaders as dependent variables.

Both models pass the Wald Test. In addition, an Ordinary Least Squared (OLS) regression model treated the weighted summation index of relative distrust in local authorities as dependent variable. The three identified determinants of expressed trust in central leaders were treated as predictors of interest in all three regression models. The key control variable was expressed trust in central leaders because it is the baseline for calculating relative

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distrust. The four demographic background variables were also controlled. Table 5 summarizes the results.

[Table 5 about here]

Regression analyses largely reconfirm that relative distrust in local authorities reflects hidden distrust in central leaders. The weak correlation between relative distrust in local authorities and satisfaction with the performance of the central government turned out to be statistically insignificant at the individual level. However, the other two correlations observed in comparative analysis were highly significant. First, controlling for expressed trust in central leaders, satisfaction with government policies had a significant and

negative

impact on relative distrust in local authorities. In other words, the more satisfied an individual was about government policies, the less relative distrust in local authorities she had, regardless of her/his expressed trust in central leaders. Conversely, the less satisfied an individual was about government policies, the stronger relative distrust in local authorities s/he had. Insofar as satisfaction with government policies generates or enhances confidence in central leaders while dissatisfaction weakens it, the result indicates that individuals who have relative distrust in local authorities have stronger distrust in central leaders than those who have no relative distrust.

Second, the significant and

positive

correlation between perceived severity of the problem of political democracy in the country and relative distrust in local authorities also suggests that relative distrust in local authorities reflects distrust in central leaders. Other things being equal, respondents who were more seriously concerned about the state of political democracy in the country had significantly stronger relative distrust in local authorities. By contrast, those who were more complacent about political democracy had

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significantly weaker relative distrust in local authorities. Insofar as dissatisfaction with the state of political democracy in the country weakens trust in central leaders, the results indicates that relative distrust in local authorities reflects hidden distrust in central leaders.

Discussions

The prevalence of hierarchical trust in China may have three related sources. First, it may derive from observing how the government system works. Under one-party authoritarian rule, all levels of government are tightly nested in a top-down hierarchical system. Despite the constitutional principle that government leaders are elected by the people’s congress (see

O’Brien, 1990), in reality it is central leaders who appoints provincial leaders, who in turn appoint county leaders (e.g., Burns, 1999; Chan, 2004). The multilevel principal-agent system (see Wedeman, 2001) is prone to foster hierarchical trust. On one hand, central leaders can cultivate public confidence by promulgating policies that look appealing to the public. On the other hand, local authorities often lack required resources to implement policies that ordinary people find beneficial (e.g., Tsui and Wang, 2004; Liu et al., 2011), which generates popular discontent and distrust. In other words, hierarchical trust may emerge because central leaders enjoy a structural advantage over local authorities in generating and maintaining public confidence.

Second, the regime employs political propaganda and information censorship to cultivate hierarchical trust. The official media keeps glorifying central leaders by trumpeting the country’s “great achievements.” Meanwhile, it shields central leaders from popular discontent by scapegoating local officials for things that have gone wrong (e.g., Li, 2004;

Kennedy, 2009). Moreover, government-controlled TV programs often mobilize traditional cultural resources and symbols to foster faith in the goodwill of top leaders, usually at the expense of local authorities (e.g., Shi, 2001; Brady, 2009; Tong, 2011). The official news

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media even selectively exposes corruption of local authorities (e.g., Wedeman, 2005; Guo,

2008), while a tight censorship system blocks negative news about central leaders and their families (Zhu et al., 2012). As a result, people who receive political information primarily from official sources or internet sources confined by the “Great Firewall” (see Lei, 2011) may develop hierarchical trust.

Lastly, political caution may also contribute to the prevalence of hierarchical trust. On one hand, cautious respondents may understate their distrust in central leaders. For instance, when survey questions do not differentiate various dimensions of trust, people who have partial trust in central leaders may, out of caution, sound as if they have full confidence.

Political caution thus makes the “attitude generalization” effect (Hill, 1981) works in favor of central leaders in China. On the other hand, political caution tends to have a weaker inhibitive effect on the expression of distrust in local authorities because it is in line with the government propaganda not to trust local authorities. Inflated trust in central leaders and more truthful distrust in local authorities may thus contribute to the phenomenon of hierarchical trust.

The fact that hierarchical trust indicates distrust in local authorities but in the meantime reflects distrust in central leaders suggests that it may have dual effects on behavioral orientations. On one hand, relative distrust in local authorities may enhance the sense of rights deprivation and strengthen confidence in the effectiveness of appealing to central leaders. Hierarchical trust may thus be a cornerstone of the ideational foundation for rightful resistance or rights defense campaigns (O’Brien and Li, 2006; Benny, 2012). On the other hand, extreme relative distrust in local authorities may work just like distrust in central leaders. Underneath the belief that all sub-national government authorities are totally corrupt, for instance, may lie a belief that the central leadership is well-meaning but totally incompetent (O’Brien and Li, 2006, p.45). When they protest against local authorities, people

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who have steeply hierarchical trust may be more likely to adopt more transgressive and disruptive tactics (see O’Brien, 2003).

Conclusions

The study finds that hierarchical trust in government, i.e., having stronger confidence in central leaders than in local authorities, reflects unexpressed distrust in central leaders. The evidence consists in two observations. First, respondents who were less satisfied with government policies and the state of political democracy in the country expressed stronger distrust in central leaders. Second, among respondents who expressed the same level of confidence in central leaders, those who held hierarchical trust were significantly less satisfied with government policies and the state of democracy. Insofar as dissatisfactions generate or enhance distrust, the two observations suggest that people who hold hierarchical trust have in substantive terms more distrust in central leaders than those who show equal trust in both central and local leaders. Since over half of respondents who expressed confidence in central leaders had relative distrust in local authorities, which reflects unexpressed distrust in central leaders, it is safe to conclude that public confidence central leaders is considerably weaker than it looks.

The finding calls for reinterpreting survey results about trust in China’s central government. Skeptics are correct in warning against uncritically accepting survey results about highly sensitive issues such as trust in the central government. Simply dismissing survey data, however, risks of “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” This study shows that imperfect data nonetheless can be nonetheless valid and reliable. The correlations between expressed trust in central leaders and perceptions of central government performance conform to theoretical expectations. Moreover, the correlations between relative distrust in local authorities and perceptions of central government performance also conform to

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theoretical expectations. Lastly, the correlation between stronger expressed confidence in central leaders and higher likelihood of holding hierarchical trust is also consistent with theoretical expectations. What researchers need to do is to contextualize survey data and take necessary detours when exploring correlations between imperfectly measured variables.

More broadly, the study highlights the importance of studying trust in sub-national governments in authoritarian countries like China. When all levels of government are structurally nested in a top-down hierarchical system of power delegation, public confidence in sub-national governments inevitably reflects confidence in the central leadership.

Consequently, patterns of trust in multilevel government contain valuable information about trust in the central government. A methodological implication is that survey researchers can adopt a two-pronged approach to improve the assessment of public confidence in the central government in authoritarian countries. As this study illustrates, researchers can tap trust in all levels of government, knowing that questions about local governments sound politically less sensitive. Meanwhile, they can collect information on perceptions and experiences that are politically less sensitive and theoretically expected to affect or to be affected by trust in the central government. They can then use data on trust in different levels of government to identify patterns of trust in government and use data on perceptions of central government performance to identify determinants of expressed trust in central government. Lastly, researchers can extract the information about trust in central government contained in various patterns of trust in multilevel government. To the extent that it may improve estimate of popular trust in the central government at a given time, the two-pronged approach will also help monitor fluctuations of trust in the central government over time. When broadly measured trust in the central government appears stable, changes of trust in local authorities and fluctuations of perceptions that affect expressed trust in central leaders may reveal that important changes in public confidence about the central government have taken place.

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Table 1. Trust in Three Levels of Government Leaders

Central leaders Provincial leaders County leaders

Trust very much

Trust somewhat

44.6

40.5

Do not trust very much 11.3

Do not trust at all 3.6

24.3

51.9

18.1

5.7

17.1

50.0

24.6

8.2

Note

: N=3,989. Column entries are percentages; column totals may be above or below 100 due to rounding errors. Missing values are multiply imputed.

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Table 2. Patterns of Government Trust in China

2008

China

Survey

2002 Asian

Barometer

Survey

2003 Asia-

Barometer

Survey

2006 Asia-

Barometer

Survey

2008 Asian

Barometer

Survey

44.4

54.3

.4

.9

Hierarchical trust

Equal trust

“Paradox of distance”

Equal distrust

42.7

39.9

11.0

6.3

33.4

54.5

4.7

6.3

46.8

37.3

6.5

9.6

63.0

32.1

.6

4.3

N

Note

: Column entries are percentages; column totals may be above or below 100 due to rounding errors.

3,989 2,895 788 1,929 4,566

23

Table 3. Predicting Distrust in Central Government Leaders

Satisfaction with government policies

(low to high)

Perceived Severity of the problem of political democracy (low to high)

Satisfaction with the work of the central government (low to high)

Perceived Severity of the problem of corruption (low to high)

Satisfaction with the work of the county government (low to high)

Life satisfaction

(low to high)

Communist Party member

.482***

(.065)

-.071***

(.023)

.234***

(.028)

-.004

(.020)

.006

(.023)

-.001

(.007)

.075

(0=no; 1=yes)

Gender

(0=female; 1=male)

Age

(18 to 92)

Education in years

(.163)

-.085

(.079)

.011**

(.004)

.007

(0 to 19) (.012)

Note

: Entries are unstandardized ordered logit regression coefficients, with robust standard errors in parenthesis beneath them.

*

p

.05; **

p

.01; ***

p

.001.

N=3,989. Missing data are multiply imputed. Data are weighted.

24

Table 4. Means of Scores by Patterns of Trust

Respondents with modest trust in central leaders

(n=1,582)

Holders of equal trust

(

n

=1,038)

Holders of hierarchical

(

n

trust

=544)

Respondents with strong trust in central leaders

(n=1,714)

Holders of hierarchical

(

n

trust

=1,160)

Satisfaction with government polices (1-5)

Satisfaction with the work of the central government (0-10)

Perceived Severity of the problem of political democracy (0-10)

4.127

7.964

4.124

3.757

7.706

4.995

4.576

8.984

3.068

4.270

8.781

3.829

Note

: Difference of means for each pair is significant at p <. 01 in the Student Newman-

Keuls comparison.

Holders of equal trust

(

n

=554)

25

Table 5. Predicting Relative Distrust in Local Authorities

Relative

Distrust in

County

Leaders

1

Relative

Distrust in

Provincial

Leaders

2

Relative

Distrust in

Local

Authorities

3

Satisfaction with government polices (low to high)

Perceived Severity of the problem of political democracy (low to high)

Satisfaction with the work of the central government (low to high)

Trust in central leaders

(modest to strong)

Communist Party member

(0=no; 1=yes)

Gender

(0=female; 1=male)

Age

(18 to 92)

Education in years

(0 to 19)

N

-.482***

(.083)

.093***

(.019)

.014

(.032)

1.898***

(.130)

.009

(.186)

.257*

(.116)

-.004

(.004)

-.003

(.018)

3,311

-.639***

(.077)

.053*

(.022)

.030

(.034)

1.659***

(.140)

-.158

(.222)

.074

(.099)

-.000

(.005)

-.006

(.020)

3,311

-.456***

(.059)

.056***

(.014)

.019

(.023)

1.414***

(.080)

-.046

(.147)

.141†

(.079)

-.003

(.003)

-.004

(.017)

3,286

Note

:

1 2

Entries are unstandardized ordered logit regression coefficients, with robust standard errors in parenthesis beneath them.

3

Entries are unstandardized OLS regression coefficients, with robust standard errors in parenthesis beneath them.

p

.10; *

p

.05; **

p

.01; ***

p

.001.

Respondents who have equal distrust in all three levels or weaker trust in central leaders than in local authorities were excluded. Missing data are multiply imputed. Data are weighted.

26

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Appendix 1

Sampling, Weighting and Imputation of Missing Data

The China Survey is based on a stratified multi-stage probability sample of all

Chinese adults, which was drawn using GPS/GIS Assistant Area Sampling (Landry and Shen,

2005). First, a total of 75 primary sampling units (PSUs) county-level administrative units

(counties, county-level cities and urban municipality districts) were selected from seven geographical regions and a centrally-managed metropolitan city according to the principle of probability proportional to measure of population size (PPS). Second, within each of the 75

PSUs, two secondary sampling units (SSUs) (i.e., townships or urban street committees) were drawn randomly also by PPS. The third stage consists of half-square minutes of latitude and longitude, which are Tertiary Sampling Units (TSUs). In this stage, GPS/GIS technology was used to draw two half-square minutes within each township, drawn from a geographical grid of each SSU, excluding patently empty spaces identified ex-ante from high-resolution satellite imagery. The fourth stage consists of square seconds, the number of which is inversely proportional to the expected population density of each TSU. Trained surveyors equipped with GPS receivers were dispatched to systematically enumerate the final spatial units, which are Spatial Square Seconds (SSS, 90m by 90m). Finally, teams of trained interviewers were sent to interview all residents (one per household, randomly selected using the Kish grid method) of each SSS from April to June of 2008. Surveys in two and half PSUs were not administered due to logistical problems caused by the Wenchuan earthquake, which occurred on May 12, 2008. The end result was a national probability sample of 3,989 individuals aged 18 or over, drawn in 73 county-level administrative regions. A total of 5,525 target respondents were selected, 3,989 of whom completed the questionnaire, representing a response rate of 72.2%. To adjust for survey design effects, each PSU, i.e., county, countylevel city or county-level urban district (for convenience it is called county in this study), is

35

treated as a cluster. Data are weighted in terms of strata, age and gender based on the 2000

Census data (see Landry and Stockmann, 2009).

Like other survey studies (e.g., Zhu, 1996), the China Survey is plagued with the problem of missing responses. Over 40 percent of 3,989 respondents did not answer one or more of the questions analyzed in this study. Little’s Missing Completely at Random

(MCAR) test (Little, 1988) shows that the data are not MCAR (p <.001). To improve the efficiency of estimation by reflecting additional variability due to the missing values, this study assumes that observations are missing at random (MAR) and adopts the multiple imputation approach (Rubin, 1987; Little and Rubin, 1987, 1989; Schafer, 1997; Schafer and

Olsen, 1998; King et al., 2001). Five multiply imputed datasets were generated using Amelia

II (Honaker et al., 2012), which imputes missing values under different assumptions. The imputed datasets were then analyzed with Kenneth Scheve’s MIEST and MISUM programs, which separately analyze each imputed dataset and then combine the parameter estimates and variances based on imputed datasets to produce a single set of estimates and variances, taking into account the systematic variance within and across imputed datasets (see Rubin, 1987;

Schafer and Olsen, 1998, pp.556-557). For the purposes of comparison, all analytic models were also fitted to the original data using listwise deletion. Results obtained from the two alternative treatments of missing values are highly consistent.

36

Appendix 2: Description of Variables

Trust in Three Levels of Government Leaders

How much do you trust the following people? Do you <01> trust them very much <02> somewhat trust them <03> don’t trust them very much <04> don’t trust them at all? (note: Responses are recoded in this study such that larger number indicates stronger trust)

[b9g] County government leaders

[b9h] Provincial government leaders

[b9i] Central government leaders

Relative Distrust in Local Leaders

Relative distrust in provincial leaders (ranging 0-3, n=3,321)

Relative distrust in county leaders (ranging 0-3, n=3,324)

Relative distrust in local authorities (ranging 0-7.68, n=3296)

Satisfaction with Government Performance

We very much want to know how you assess the work of the following levels of government. Here is a card, the number 0 on it indicates extremely dissatisfied, and the number 10 indicates extremely satisfied, please choose a number on the scale to indicate your degree of satisfaction

[c9a] Central government

[c9b] County/city government

Satisfaction with Government Policies

Do you agree or disagree with the following statements? <01>

Strongly Agree; <02> Somewhat Agree; <03> Neither agree nor disagree [Neutral] <04> Somewhat Disagree<05> Strongly Disagree

[c2a] In general, I am basically satisfied with government policies

Perceived Severity of Problems in the Country

On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 indicating this is not a problem at all in China and 10 indicating this is an extremely serious problem, how serious do you think these problems are in China today?

[c1e] Political democracy

[c1h] Corruption

Satisfaction of Life

For each of the following questions, card is shown with 11-point scale, ranging from 0 for “not satisfied at all” to 10 for “satisfied very much.”

[h2a] How satisfied are you with the income of your household?

[h2b] How satisfied are you with your life?

[h2c] To what extent are you satisfied with your current job?

Mean

8.136

6.515

4.163

7.088

4.103

5.022

5.902

5.273

2.701

2.901

3.243

.435

.673

1.363

Standard deviation

2.195

2.648

2.743

2.745

.871

2.675

2.567

2.691

.837

.811

.787

.641

.802

1.669

37

Demographic Backgrounds

Member of the Chinese Communist Party 0=no; 1=yes .083 .276

Gender 0=female; 1=male

Age (18 to 92)

Education (years of schooling)

.482

45.986

6.540

.500

15.633

4.238

Notes: N=3,989. Missing data are multiply imputed. Row entries are means and standard deviations.

38

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