Decision-making autonomy and political trust: Experimental evidence from ‘Brexit’ and the 2019 UK General Election campaign


Do concerns over levels of sovereignty - defined as autonomous decision-making - af- fect political trust? This has been difficult to test in observational settings. This study set out to test this claim, building on literatures which argue sovereignty concerns were at the core of the referendum and are a determinant of political trust. Using a unique sur- vey experiment, fielded during the 2019 UK election campaign, which randomly assigns respondents to two treatment conditions emphasising different levels of sovereignty, the results show that assignment to an experimental condition emphasising sovereignty gains increases overall political trust. This is driven by leave voters whose trust levels increase by 2 points on an 11-point scale, whilst remain voters’ trust levels do not change at all. Finally, the results provide ambiguous results that assignment to a ‘full’ rather than ‘limited’ sovereignty prime affects trust. This suggests that ‘Brexit’ may actually be a positive for political trust in the UK, and provides rare experimental evidence on the importance of sovereignty concerns for other political attitudes.

Unpublished Manuscript