The Present Geography of Trust in Italy

In document Identity Crisis in Italy (Pldal 89-96)

A Geography of “Identity” Trust in Italy

7. The Present Geography of Trust in Italy

High levels of dissatisfaction, lack of identification of Italian citizens with Italian institutions, the legitimacy of political institutions and a prevalence of mistrust seem to persist even in recent times. However, national data may hide regional differences, since the unification of Italy after centuries of political division, in which the Holy See exerted great influence on much of the country, is relatively recent. Moreover, the so-called Third Italy (Bagnasco 1977) has traditionally been characterised by the development of political subcultures9 that produced a high degree of political and social participation, interpersonal and institutional trust, voter loyalty, strong work ethic and a deep sense of local identity (Caciagli 1988, 2017; Trigilia 1986). Finally, even the later success of the Lega Nord has a strong territorial connotation, traditionally successful in northern Italy. These established regional differences in political culture can also be assumed to produce differences in the geography of trust in Italy in recent times. To obtain a more differentiated picture of trust in Italy and its recent development, we show how (mis)trust is distributed among the Italian regions.

To do so, we base our analysis on the classification of Italian macro-regions developed by the Istituto Cattaneo of Bologna in the 1960s. This classification has proved to account for the main trends in political culture in recent years (Cartocci 1990). Our analysis divides Italy geographically into five areas: Northwest (Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta, Liguria, Lombardy), Northeast (Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia), Centre-North or “red zone”

(Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria and Marche), Centre-South (Lazio, Abruzzo and Sardinia) and South (Molise, Basilicata, Apulia, Calabria and Sicily).

Table 3 shows the distribution of generalised trust and other classic indicators of political and social participation by macro-region. The other indicators include newspaper reading, participation in political discussions and donations to volunteer organisations. The data is drawn from the multipurpose household surveys (“Aspects of daily life”) conducted by the Italian National Institute for Statistics (ISTAT) in the period 2010–2012, which include more than 142,000 respondents.

The question used by ISTAT to explore trust in others is similar to that suggested by the World Value Survey and the European Value Study. However, since the ISTAT data is based on a bigger sample,10 the results presented here can be considered statistically more solid, and therefore suitable for cross-regional analysis.

9 The “red” subculture was due to the political weight of the Italian Communist Party in central Italy. The

“white” subculture is associated with the strong Christian Democrat tradition in the north-eastern part of the country.

10 The World Value Survey and the European Value Study surveyed about 1,000 to 2,000 individuals per country, respectively, on each occasion. Unfortunately, the data in the database is only available for a restricted time horizon, which reduces the possibility of distinguishing between stock and trend of institutional trust.

Table 3.

Generalised trust (average percentage from 2010 to 2012) and some political and social participation indicators (average percentage from 2010 to 2012) in Italy by macro-region – correlation coefficients

(r) between generalised trust and the other variables Macro-

the other variables 1 – 0.895(*) – 0.891(*) 0.859(*)

* Correlation is significant at 0.01 (2-tailed p-test)

Source: The author’s calculations based on ISTAT data: “Multiscopo, Aspects of daily life”

At first sight, the data seems to confirm the persistence of a low level of trust in Italy as a whole, with regional differences indicated by the decreasing trend in trust in others from North to South. In Trentino-Alto Adige, generalised trust resembles that of central European countries reflected by the WVS and EVS data (36%), whereas in the rest of the North and Centre-North, generalised trust is clearly lower (22–27%), and in the South it is extremely low (16–17%).

The data also confirms the high correlations between trust in others and the indicators of political participation (Table 3). Those who do not trust people in general tend not to read newspapers or talk about politics. In contrast, trust in others is positively correlated with donation of money to volunteer organisations (r = 0.86). Therefore, it is not surprising that in the Northwest and Northeast about 70% of the respondents (80% in Trentino-Alto Adige) declare that they read newspapers at least once a week and often discuss politics with others.

These percentages drop to 60–65% in the Centre and are lowest in the South (40–50%).

The share of those who donate to volunteer organisations also decreases progressively from North to South.

The data on generalised trust also suggests that regional differences, especially between the Centre-North and South, continue to characterise the present Italian geography of trust.

Our study therefore basically confirms past results in the literature.

Table 4.

Trust in various institutions in Italy by macro-region – average percentages of trust between 2011 and 2013 on a 0–10 scale

Macro-regions Regions % of trust in the Parliament (average 2011–2013) % of trust in the judicial system (average 2011–2013) % of trust in political parties (average 2011–2013) % of trust in the police and the fire service (average 2012–2013) % of trust in local governments (average 2012–2013)


Piedmont and Valle

d’Aosta 3.3 4.4 2.4 7.3 4.4

Lombardy 3.4 4.2 2.4 7.4 4.2

Liguria 3.8 4.7 2.8 7.4 4.2

Northeast Trentino-Alto Adige 3.2 4.5 2.8 7.5 5.3

Veneto 3.1 4.0 2.1 7.4 4.2

Friuli Venezia Giulia 3.3 4.2 2.3 7.5 4.6

Centre- North

Emilia-Romagna 3.4 4.3 2.4 7.5 4.5

Tuscany 3.5 4.5 2.4 7.3 4.2

Umbria 3.4 4.3 2.4 7.2 3.9

Marche 3.4 4.2 2.2 7.4 4.0

Centre- South

Lazio 3.6 4.4 2.4 7.2 3.5

Abruzzo 3.6 4.3 2.4 7.4 3.9

Molise 3.6 4.6 2.6 7.2 3.6

Sardinia 3.1 4.5 2.0 7.2 3.4

Macro-regions Regions % of trust in the Parliament (average 2011–2013) % of trust in the judicial system (average 2011–2013) % of trust in political parties (average 2011–2013) % of trust in the police and the fire service (average 2012–2013) % of trust in local governments (average 2012–2013)


Campania 3.6 4.6 2.6 6.8 3.4

Apulia 3.6 4.6 2.4 7.0 3.7

Basilicata 3.7 4.5 2.5 6.9 3.5

Calabria 3.5 4.6 2.4 6.8 3.3

Sicily 3.4 4.8 2.1 7.3 3.2

Total Italy 3.4 4.4 2.4 7.3 3.9

N 140,388 140,388 140,388 92,779 92,779

Source: The author’s calculations based on ISTAT data: “Multiscopo, Aspects of daily life”

However, at second glance, some differences, especially in terms of institutional trust, could pave the way for future changes. Table 4 shows levels of trust in the Parliament, the judicial system, political parties, the police and fire services, and local governments by macro-region.11

According to this data, only the police and fire services have managed to gain the citizens’ trust all over the country. Moreover, if we exclude local institutions such as municipalities, provinces and regional governments, the level of trust in the institutions of democracy seems very low in all areas. Even in the Centre-North regions traditionally characterised by high levels of generalised and institutional trust, the latter has declined and is approaching the lower values of the South.

Disarticulation of regional political subcultures, both “red” and “white”, may have radically altered the characteristics of social integration, institutional legitimacy and efficient policies in those areas, opening the way for deep and steady deterioration of trust and the virtual circle it was once able to generate. What is striking, however, is that the decline in institutional trust in relatively “trusting” regions seems to be unrelated to the development of generalised trust in the same regions.

8. Conclusion

In this study we analysed the concept of trust by comparing trust as “calculation” with trust as “identity”. While calculated trust is grounded in the principle of utility, identity trust is based on the sharing of values that takes on different characteristics according to whether the trustee is known (particularist trust) or unknown (universalist-generalised trust).

After clarifying the difference between these two interpretations of the concept of trust, we analysed identity trust in Italy, focusing on generalised trust, indicators of “diffuse

11 This data also comes from ISTAT “Multiscopo” surveys (“Aspects of daily life”) and relies on samples of more than 140,000 individuals for the period 2011–2013 and over 92,000 for the years 2012 and 2013.

support” (Easton 1975) and institutional trust, by comparing Italy with other European countries and by highlighting interregional differences within Italy.

Compared with other EU countries, Italy shows a clear deficit of generalised trust, little trust in its institutions and limited institutional legitimacy, which in turn are deemed to affect participation in political life, social cohesion, interest in the common good and the quality of democracy.

While this result mainly confirms other reports in the literature, our intra-national analysis brings a new picture to light. In the past, such studies showed sharp differences between the main macro-areas of Italy. Compared to the work of Robert Putnam in the early 1990s, we find a steady downward levelling of intra-national differences. Although differences between the North and South in terms of generalised trust and political and social participation are still evident, the most recent trend concerning trust in institutions shows that the difference between the South and the traditionally more civic areas (“Third Italy” and the Northwest) have been drastically reduced, if not eliminated.

Mistrust has been perpetuated in Italy through long-standing networks of patronage and cronyism. People have increasingly viewed patronage-like behaviour and short-radius trust as a necessity for survival. A sense of moral responsibility towards other persons is an unaffordable luxury for many, for others a childish illusion once nurtured by ideological incrustations that have now disappeared.

The analysis presented in this article shows that these cultural phenomena, which were considered to be more widespread in the South, may become increasingly common in other more civic Italian regions as a consequence of the economic and financial crisis and the transformation of political subcultures. At the moment, institutional trust seems to have decreased significantly without excessively affecting generalised trust. However, it is unclear whether erosion of trust in democratic institutions will have repercussions on people’s capacity for social cohesion and fostering responsibility towards others.

Be that as it may, good democracy presupposes interpersonal trust that extends beyond the restricted circle of relatives, friends and clientele and institutional trust capable of supporting the democratic system through difficult times and even times of economic crisis.

In case of Italy, growth of trust requires institutions capable of ensuring rights, imposing duties, countering favouritism and promoting equality among citizens. Italians need to be able to perceive democratic institutions as close and reliable. It is the task of politics to see to it that these institutions arouse a feeling of loyalty, cooperation and respect, if not identification.

This means investing in policies that can overcome social and cultural backwardness. It means re-establishing the framework of daily interactions between the State and citizens under the aegis of good governance, public ethics and participation.


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In document Identity Crisis in Italy (Pldal 89-96)