A Cognitive Anatomy of Political Trust and Respective Bases: Evidence from a Two-City Survey in China



Building on contemporary research on social cognition and psychology, trust, political representation and accountability, and candidate evaluation, this article proposes to decompose political trust into two cognitively distinct but related components for examination: competence versus intention evaluations. This article further argues that people's evaluations of their government's competence and intention in governance can have distinct bases due to the varying accessibility of pertinent information. Using valid instruments from a unique sampling survey in two Chinese cities in 2005, this article tests the validity of this cognitive scheme. Empirical evidence shows that (1) the surveyed Chinese urban residents effectively differentiated between their central government's competence and intention in governance: on average, they had a quite positive assessment of the central government's intention to serve its people, despite their relatively pessimistic views of its competence to deliver good governance; (2) the Chinese urbanites did consult different sources of information and heuristics when evaluating their central government's competence and intention, respectively.