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How impressions of public employees’ warmth and competence influence trust in government
International Public Management Journal  (IF3.083),  Pub Date : 2021-09-03, DOI: 10.1080/10967494.2021.1963361


A central argument in the performance-trust literature is that the performance of public service delivery shapes citizen trust in government. However, studies have failed to address to what extent single interactions with public employees affect citizen trust in government. Building on insights from social psychology, this article argues that citizens spontaneously make impressions of the warmth (e.g., friendliness) and competence (e.g., effectiveness) of the public employee with whom they interact. Utilizing two large-scale randomized survey experiments, conducted in Denmark and the United States, this study demonstrates that impressions of warmth and competence in a concrete interaction with a public employee have important effects on general trust in civil servants. The findings further provide evidence that a single case experience can have implications for trust in broader administrative and political institutions of government. Thus, this article shows that even a single bureaucratic encounter can potentially have wide-ranging implications.