Elections, Protest and Trust in Government: A Natural Experiment from Russia
How do elections and post-election protest shape political trust in a competitive autocracy? Taking advantage of largely exogenous variation in the timing of a survey conducted in Moscow in 2011, we find that an election had little systematic effect on political trust, perhaps because vote improprieties were not new information. In contrast, the unexpected protest that followed increased trust in government. We argue that when autocrats permit protest unexpectedly, citizens may update their beliefs about the trustworthiness of the government. In this case, heightened trust arises largely from opposition voters - those most likely to be surprised by permission to hold the protest - who update their beliefs. Our results suggest that citizens may cue not off the content of a protest, but off the government's decision to permit it. In addition, autocrats can increase trust in government by allowing protest when it is unexpected.