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How to Rebuild Trust in Public Institutions

The belief that public institutions are accessible and beneficial is crucial to democracy. Re-establishing a direct connection between government agencies and the citizens they serve can restore a sense of community and shared responsibilities, thereby helping to restore trust in representative institutions.

OXFORD/NASHVILLE – As voters around the world head to the polls this year, many have lost trust in politicians and even in democracy itself. For governments, addressing public disillusionment has become an urgent priority. How can they restore confidence in representative institutions and thus bolster the political legitimacy that elections confer?

One promising solution is to emphasize real-life interactions with constituents, helping them overcome challenges in their daily lives. France is a leading example of this approach. The way French citizens interact with their government has evolved significantly in recent years, a shift that can be partly attributed to the “yellow vests” (gilets jaunes) protests of 2018 and 2019.

The protests, triggered by a fuel-tax increase, were interpreted by officials within French President Emmanuel Macron’s government as an expression of voters’ anxiety over economic changes that they perceived as leaving them behind. Amélie de Montchalin, then Minister of Public Transformation and Service, characterized the movement as a “big cry for equality.” As outraged working-class commuters flooded the streets of Paris and other cities, the slogan “We exist” came to be seen as a call for more accessible public services. At the same time, a widening digital divide was exacerbating existing inequalities.