Working Paper

A need for control? Political trust and public preferences for asylum and refugee policy


  • Anne-Marie Jeannett
  • Esther Ademmer
  • Martin Ruhs
  • Tobias Heidland
Publication Date

Political trust matters for citizens’ policy preferences but existing research has not yet considered whether this effect depends on how policies are designed. To fill this gap, this article analyses whether and how policy design and political trust interact in shaping people’s policy preferences. We theorise that policy controls such as limits and conditions can function as safeguards against uncertainty, thereby compensating for a person's lack of trust in political institutions in generating support for policy provision. Focusing on the case of public preferences for asylum and refugee policy, our empirical analysis is based on an original conjoint experiment with 12,000 respondents across eight European countries. Our results show that individuals’ trust in the political institutions of the European Union has a central role in the formation of their asylum and refugee policy preferences. Individuals with lower levels of political trust in European institutions are less supportive of asylum and refugee policies that provide expansive, unlimited, or unconditional protection and more supportive of policies with highly restrictive features. We also demonstrate that even politically distrusting individuals can systematically support policies that provide protection and assistance to refugees if there are limits or conditions on policy provision. We conclude by discussing the relevance of our findings to theoretical understandings of the role of political trust in the formation of individuals’ policy preferences.

Kiel Institute Expert


Key Words

  • Political Trust; Policy Preferences; Asylum and Refugee Policy