Bridging the Ideological Divide: Trust and Support
for Social Security Privatization
Thomas J. Rudolph Æ Elizabeth Popp
Published online: 21 November 2008
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008
Abstract Using a pair of national surveys, this article analyzes the individual-
level sources of public support for Social Security privatization. Given the inherent
risks associated with privatization, we argue that the political trust heuristic affords
untapped theoretical leverage in explaining public attitudes toward privatization.
We ﬁnd that, among certain individuals, political trust plays an instrumental role in
structuring privatization preferences. Political trust increases support for privati-
zation, but only among liberals. This heterogeneity in trust’s impact is best
explained, we argue, by the unbalanced ideological costs imposed by the potential
privatization of Social Security. Among liberals, embracing privatization requires
the sacriﬁce of core values, thereby making political trust a potent consideration.
Political trust is inconsequential among conservatives because supporting privati-
zation requires no comparable sacriﬁce for them.
Keywords Political trust Á Ideology Á Social security Á Privatization
‘‘There is a fundamental difference between my opponent [Al Gore] and me.
He trusts only government to manage our retirement. I trust individual
Americans. I trust Americans to make their own decisions and manage their
own money.’’ (Bush 2000)
Throughout two presidential campaigns and nearly two terms in ofﬁce, George
W. Bush has attempted to forge a link between trust and Social Security reform in
the minds of the American electorate. According to Bush, Social Security faces an
impending crisis and will, if not properly reformed, be insolvent in less than a
T. J. Rudolph (&) Á E. Popp
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 361 Lincoln Hall 702 S. Wright St., Urbana, IL, USA
Polit Behav (2009) 31:331–351