Trust in parliament

Balázs Gyimesi, OECD Observer

House of Commons of the United Kingdom ©AFP PHOTO/PRU/HO

“Sail, sail thy best, ship of democracy, […] With thee Time voyages in trust,” wrote American poet Walt Whitman in his poem “Song of democracy”. But do we trust democracy to take us in the right direction? In European countries, there is a clear relationship between how satisfied we are with democracy and how much we trust its most important institution–parliament. Believing that our elected representatives will act in our best interests is crucial to maintaining the legitimacy of democracy.

People who are more satisfied with democracy are also those who trust their assembly of elected representatives more. Switzerland and the Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, show the greatest satisfaction with democracy and highest level of trust in their parliament, whereas southern and eastern European countries such as Italy, Portugal and Slovenia trust their elected representatives less and are less satisfied with democracy overall.

Interestingly, Europeans trust parliament less than the legal system, and even the police, according to the European Social Survey.

But the nature of parliament is also that the voting public can keep it in check and change it completely, as elections from France and the US have demonstrated. Parliaments, in turn, know that while it is their job to discuss, contradict, argue, agree and oppose, they must do so in the public interest. Clearly, parliament can be vital in promoting better policies for better lives–the OECD Observer was launched by the Secretary-General 55 years ago in large part to inform parliaments of the organisation’s policy work. Today, with the Global Parliamentary Network, the OECD actively engages with members of parliament from around the world by providing them with analysis, data and expert opinion. It also creates a rather special space for MPs to hear about each other’s experiences and learn from them. After all, listening is fundamental to building trust. It is the wind in the sails of Walt Whitman’s democracy.

OECD (2017), How’s Life? 2017: Measuring Well-being, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD Global Parliamentary Network,

European Social Survey,

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