If institutions position themselves politically, they lose trust – knowledge

The rainbow flag is now waving or sticking in places where not so long ago this symbol of the LGBTQ movement might have looked out of place. For example, banking groups decorate the rooms in which they have placed their ATMs and bank statement printers in the form of stickers. The colorful flag flies in front of the headquarters of international management consulting firms, it is hoisted by car manufacturers, it is at home in the pharmaceutical sector and in professional sports, as well as in many other places that until recently were not considered the home of more left-wing political views. Attitude is demonstrated for the good cause, the rainbow flag has become a ubiquitous phenomenon. What can be wrong with that?

Institutions and companies may lose trust if they position themselves politically. Apparently, this even applies when people essentially share these positions and sort themselves into the corresponding ideological camp. The loss of trust is then not quite as severe as when the corresponding positions are rejected, but it is still measurable. This is what psychologists around Corey Clark from the University of Pennsylvania are showing in a study with almost 3500 participants, which has so far been published on the pre-print server PsyArXiv. According to the scientists, the measured effects suggest that institutions almost universally lose trust as soon as they are perceived as politicized and positioned in terms of ideologies.

In the USA, trust in many institutions has collapsed, sometimes drastically

Among other things, the psychologists working with Clark asked their test subjects to provide assessments of institutions that are said to have ideological or political biases in the USA. Professors, scientists, teachers, journalists or the World Health Organization (WHO) are perceived as politically left-wing. The US Supreme Court, the police or the Catholic Church, on the other hand, are regarded as institutions that are dominated by the right-wing camp. Both sides – conservatives as well as progressives – tended in the surveys to assess the ideological bias of the other side as more serious.

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And, of course, trust in science, for example, which is dominated by progressives, was lower among conservatives than among left-leaning Americans. But the effect also worked across political borders, and all the stronger the more the subjects believed that the political values ​​of the respective institutions also had a direct influence on their work. Apparently, at least the participants in the study preferred ideologically neutral institutions – regardless of their own political homeland.

It is enormously important for societies, the psychologists argue, that people believe in essential organizations and institutions. According to studies, trust in many institutions in the USA has collapsed, in some cases drastically. As a result, many people no longer hold the media, academia, tech companies, the university system, the police, public schools, churches, and other institutions to integrity. Whether this is justified in all cases or not does not play a role at this point: the observations indicate that it is simply the case that trust has suffered.

The current study suggests that taking an ideological or political position is not always a goal-oriented idea. Floyd Jiuyun Zhang from Stanford University recently gave a concrete example in the journal Nature Human Behaviour submitted. As the science magazine Nature, one of the most important journals worldwide, publicly spoke out in favor of Joe Biden in the 2020 US presidential election campaign, this apparently damaged trust in the journal in particular and in science in general. The attitudes towards Biden and his opponent donald trump however, remained largely unaffected. So the defensive lesson from all of this evidence is probably this: It’s seldom a good idea to interfere everywhere, for better or for worse.

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