2. Institutional trust and its drivers in New Zealand

This chapter presents data from the Survey on the Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions (OECD Trust Survey) implemented in New Zealand. In addition, where possible, it compares institutional trust and its drivers in New Zealand with trust levels in comparable OECD countries given their size, level of economic and social development and high baseline levels of institutional trust or with strong historical ties to New Zealand. Accordingly, New Zealand is benchmarked to other small advanced economies such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and to other Anglophone countries that include Australia, Ireland, Canada and the United Kingdom. While this chapter relies predominantly on data compiled through the OECD Trust Survey it also makes use of secondary source when discussing factors underpinning high levels of trust in public institutions in New Zealand.

The OECD Survey on Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions is a new measurement tool supporting OECD governments in reinforcing democratic processes, improving governance outcomes, It is the first cross-national investigation dedicated specifically to identifying the drivers of trust in government, across levels of government and across public institutions. Box 2.1 presents briefly some key characteristics of the OECD Trust Survey including its coverage and implementation method.

The Trust Survey in its current form has been revised and expanded based on methodological suggestions and empirical lessons reflected in the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Trust (OECD, 2017[1]), the TrustLab project (Murtin et al., 2018[2]), the consultative process “Building a New Paradigm for Public Trust” that took place through six workshops between 2020-2021, the updated conceptual Framework on Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions (Trust Framework) (Brezzi et al., 2021[3]), in-depth case studies conducted in South Korea, Finland and Norway (OECD/KDI, 2018[4]; OECD, 2021[5]; OECD, 2022[6]) and discussions held at the OECD Public Governance Committee in 2021 (GOV/PGC/RD(2021)) and at the OECD Committee for Statistics and Statistical Policy in 2020 SDD/CSSP(2020).

The OECD Trust Survey was implemented in New Zealand between February 8th and February 24th 2022. This collection period coincides with the Wellington protests, which may introduce some bias into responses. The survey was carried out by Research New Zealand and achieved an effective sample of 2211 respondents. Box 2.2 presents some additional characteristics of the survey.

In alignment with the principle of political neutrality some questions from the OECD core questionnaire were removed from the survey implemented in New Zealand. Notably, trust in the national government was not included because of the potential confusions with the political party ‘’The New Zealand National Party’’, shortened ‘’National’’. Further waves of the survey will consider ways of reformulating this question to fit the New Zealand context.

The survey implemented in New Zealand includes the following general question on institutional trust “ On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is not at all and 10 is completely, how much do you trust each of the following institutions? ” accompanied by the following list of institutions (Table 2.1).

The measurement approach on the drivers of institutional trust moves away from standard perception questions (e.g. how much confidence do you have in your national government) and instead focuses on specific situations linked to people interactions with public institutions. Typical behavioural questions, as used in psychology or sociology, investigate the subjective reaction expected from individuals when faced with a specific situation. However, the situational questions are not stereotypical behavioural questions: they do not focus on the individual behaviour but rather on the expected conduct from a third party, in this case a public institution, a civil servant or a political figure. Consequently, the questions provide, instead, a measurement on the trustworthiness of public institutions. Unlike attitudes (passive response) and behaviours (active response), trustworthiness is based on expectations of positive behaviour in alignment with the working definition of trust presented in chapter 1. The battery of situational questions for measuring the determinants of public trust in New Zealand in alignment with the OECD trust framework is presented in Table 2.2.

The survey implemented in New Zealand also includes questions on the drivers of trust that were specifically included for this study. These questions were included to, on the one hand to explore additional factors influencing trust in New Zealand (e.g. how the government has treated people in a community or experience with agencies) and on the other hand to further validate the internal coherence of the OECD trust framework for New Zealand. Table 2.3 presents the additional questions included the survey implemented in New Zealand. Annex B presents a detailed description of the differences between the survey implemented in New Zealand and the core OECD questionnaire.

The next chapter presents the different factors that influence trust in public institutions in New Zealand. As trust is a multidimensional construct that alongside the performance of public institutions depends on a number of individual economic, cultural and socioeconomic determinants (Ananyev and Guriev, 2018[7]; Algan, 2018[8]) these are all addressed in the coming chapter. However, this case study of trust in public institutions places specific emphasis on the drivers related to public governance rather than the individual factors. These drivers are areas where public administrations could take action to influence trust in public institutions. Nonetheless, the analysis controls for individual characteristics and when relevant refers to them.

According to the OECD Trust Survey, there is a large variation on trust levels in public institutions in New Zealand (Figure 2.1). Similar to other OECD countries, respondents in New Zealand have highest trust in law and order institutions. Around 7 in 10 respondents trust the police (73%), followed by trust in the courts and legal system (65%), 6 percentage points and 8 percentage points respectively above the OECD average. The news media is the least trusted institution (35%), slightly below the OECD average (39%). Low levels of trust in the news media are consistent with findings from other sources that explain this trend by the fact that media in New Zealand is seen as increasingly opinionated, biased, and politicised (Myllylahti and Treadwell, 2021[9]; Myllylahti and Treadwell, 2022[10]).

With the caveat that no question about the central government was asked in this survey wave in New Zealand, survey results show that New Zealand scores above the OECD average regarding trust in political and administrative institutions. Trust in the parliament (47%) is eight percentage points above the OECD average (39%). Over half say that they trust the public service (55%), which is higher than the OECD average (50%) but below levels in comparable OECD countries such as Norway (61%), Finland (66%) and Ireland (68%) (Figure 2.2).

Trust in local government councillors1 is on the lower end in comparison to other institutions in New Zealand (45%). Lower trust in local politicians could be linked to fewer competencies and responsibilities of local levels of government in New Zealand as also evidenced by diminishing levels of participation in local politics and a decrease in voter turnout at the local elections (local authority election voter turnout in 2019 was 42%)2.

In the survey conducted in New Zealand a question to qualify reasons underlying their trust in public institutions was asked to respondents. Three fifths of the New Zealand population are confident that their institutions will protect them while 56% think they will provide good public services. Half of New Zealanders expect power and resources to be used ethically while 44% of New Zealanders expect institutions to listen to them (See Figure 2.3). Overall, public institutions are evaluated better on their competences than on their values. This is consistent with some recurrent concerns raised by interviewees for this case study who indicated raising inequalities and lack of openness and meaningful engagement as potential aspects undermining trust in public institutions.

Another specific set of questions included in the survey implemented in New Zealand covers additional reasons that could influence trust in public institutions (Figure 2.4). New Zealanders recognize experience with public agencies, expressed in different forms, as the most relevant element to their trust in government agencies. Over 60% of respondents consider that their experience and those of family and friends with government agencies influences their confidence. The experience of their community and the way in which it has been treated. Reasons related to the media and missing information about the tasks of government institutions are considered as less important to build confidence levels yet some variations exist by population groups (See Box 2.3).

The survey also incorporates a question on interpersonal trust reflecting in the link, recognized in the literature, between interpersonal and institutional trust (Lipset and Schneider, 1983[11]; Job, 2005[12]; Bäck and Kestilä, 2009[13]).On average across countries, people tend to have high trust in other people (Figure 2.6). 65% of New Zealanders consider that most people can be trusted which is close to the OECD average but on the low end of the benchmarking group only above Australia (63%) and Sweden (61%). Countries with high trust in other people are the Netherlands (83%), Norway (78%) and Ireland (78%).

In general, and like in other surveyed OECD countries, women, younger people, as well as those with lower education and income levels tend to have lower trust in others and in public institutions (Figure 2.7 and Table 2.4). This trend is consistent with results for interpersonal trust where the youngest cohort display significantly lower levels of trust than other age groups (Figure 2.7). As discussed in chapter one, interpersonal and institutional trust tend to be correlated and mutually reinforcing (OECD, 2022[14]).

Regarding geographic and ethnic disparities, the Māori and Pacifica populations are the least trusting as well as respondents living outside urban areas such as Wellington and Auckland. This finding is consistent with trends in other countries, where people who live geographically further away from political institutions or economic centres often feel excluded from the political system and may have more limited access to high quality services, and as a result tend to have lower trust (OECD, 2022[15]; Mitsch, Lee and Ralph Morrow, 2021[16]; Wood, Daley and Chivers, n.d.[17]). In the case of New Zealand, while 61% and 57% of the population in Wellington and Auckland trust the public service, trust is down to 53% and 47% in more remote areas of the North and South islands, a trend also observed for other institutions such as the parliament and local government institutions (See Table 2.4).

Respondents who identified as Māori have lower levels of trust, whereas respondents who identified as Asian have the highest trust in public institutions. For example, only 42% of Māori reported trusting the public service compared to 56% of European and 66% of Asians. As will be discussed in subsequent sections when controlling for different socioeconomic characteristics being Māori is the only one that stands as significant when it comes to trust in the public service.

Still, Māori are inherently diverse thus generalizations could be misleading. However, the fact that some Māori could feel that historically the crown has breached their trust through the different versions of the Waitangi treaty and the delay in its application as well as their marginalization from political decision-making might explain lower average trust levels for Māori. A recent report published by the office of the Auditor General on Māori perspectives of public accountability based on a series of interviews with Māori concludes that Māori perceive trust as relational, reciprocal, that Tikanga3 (Māori values) builds trust and confidence and that the power imbalance thwarts trust (Office of the Auditor General, 2022[18]).

In turn, trust in the media (the least trusted institution) is also low among respondents identifying as Māori, just over a quarter of Māori reported trusting the media compared to a third in the case of people identifying as New Zealand European (See Table 2.4). Some Māori populations are more likely to trust information provided by their Iwi and people in their community as exemplified by the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and the role played by iwi in convincing Māori to get vaccinated as opposed to general vaccination campaigns. Information provided through institutional channels may not be necessarily attuned with cultural practices of some Māori groups.

Nonetheless, despite having overall comparatively lower levels of trust, significant institutional efforts to incorporate Māori’s viewpoint into decision-making and to involve them in governance processes leading to policy development and implementation, were acknowledged by different institutional and non-institutional stakeholders interviewed for this case study, including those representing Māori communities. The necessity of investing in building long-term trust relations with Māori was recognized as a crucial step for raising trust levels between Māori and the government and is the approach being taken by many government institutions.

Māori are themselves a diverse group. Box 2.4 below displays trust in the public service by ethnicity considering people’s education and income levels as well. While these statistics are not significant as the sample was not designed for such purpose they are indicative of the variations in trust levels when combining different characteristics that go beyond just ethnicity. A study conducted by the Public Sector Commission and that uses data from the Kiwis Count finds that after controlling for socioeconomic variables, the size and significance of ethnicity in trust in the public sector brand or trust based in recent experience diminishes (Papadopoulous and Vance, 2019[19]).

The consistently highest levels of institutional trust among respondents of Asian background could be explained by some socioeconomic characteristics. 88% of the respondents identifying as Asian have a university education and institutional trust is consistently higher among people with a university education (See Table 2.4). In addition, people of Asian background often represent collectivistic values emphasizing higher consideration for authority (Confucian values) and the need to fit in with others to avoid conflict in society in particular when they have lived abroad (Hempton and Komives, 2008[20]) (Zhang et al., 2018[21]). The combination of these factors might help explain respondents with Asian background rather positive assessment of public institutions and the confidence they place in them.

The largest gap in trust by socioeconomic categories is on justice-related institutions. Law and order institutions are the most trusted institutions in New Zealand. However, there are important variations across population groups. For example, 52% of Māori and 61% of Pacific trust the police compared to 76% of people of European background, even though substantial efforts have been made towards building a police force that represents the diversity of the society and to strengthen efforts to work via partnerships with individuals, communities, businesses, and other public agencies. Still, Māori are overly represented in jail with over 50% of inmates being of Māori ethnicity and Māori are also more likely to be victims of crimes (Ministry of Justice, 2022[22]). These factors may contribute to explain comparatively low levels of trust by Māori in law-and-order institutions.

Consistent with findings from other OECD member countries, the police (80%) and the courts (72%) are most trusted by older cohorts as compared to younger or middle-aged respondents (OECD, 2022[15]) . The trust gap in courts and legal system between people with low and high levels of education is also large at 20 percentage points (See Figure 2.9 Panel A) and 16 percentage points between younger and older respondents (See Figure 2.9 Panel B). Men have 13 percentage points higher trust in courts and legal system, which is the largest gender gap across all institutions (See Figure 2.9 Panel C).

In addition to personal characteristics, perceptions of one’s own situation could also influence trust in public institutions. People who feel financially insecure, i.e. reporting concerns about their household’s finances and overall social and economic well-being, have 16 percentage points lower trust in local authority/council employees and the parliament (just below the OECD average of 17 percentage points for the parliament) compared to people with no financial concerns. For all institutions considered, the gap is higher than 10 percentage points (See Figure 2.10 Panel A).

Perceptions of socioeconomic vulnerabilities are consistent with self-reported income, a more objective measure of socioeconomic status. Respondents belonging to the bottom 25% of the income distribution in New Zealand have lower trust levels for all institutions. The income gap is large and consistent across institutions reaching up to 20 percentage points for trust in courts and legal system and 16 percentage points in the case of the police (See Figure 2.10 Panel B).

31% of the New Zealand respondents indicated that they have worked in the public sector. Figure 2.11 shows that people who have worked in the public sector have on average higher trust in the public service. The level of trust is especially higher for those that have worked in the public sector4 (comprising the public service, local government, and other public sector). There is however variation within the public sector. For those who have worked in a public sector department trust is significantly higher than for those who haven’t, yet the opposite is true for those who reported working in other type government agency. Only direct experience has an effect on trust as work by a friend or family member does not have any effect on trust in the public service.

There are also variations in trust levels by migrant status (Figure 2.12). Migrants without New Zealand citizenship have higher trust levels in the public service (67%) than people who have citizenship (51%). Similar results are observed for migrants (people born in another country and who moved to New Zealand at a certain point). 65% of people born abroad express trust in the public service compared to 52% of those born in New Zealand. This likely reflects the fact that New Zealand’s migration criteria weight education very strongly and, as a result, migrants have higher average levels of education (and therefore trust) than the New Zealand born population. These results are also consistent with those found in other advanced small-developed economies such as Norway and Finland where the same pattern is observed for people with a migrant background (OECD, 2022[6]; OECD, 2021[5]).

It is often argued that the high trust model of government characteristic of the Nordic and other northern European countries can be partly attributed to relatively high levels of social and ethnic homogeneity (OECD, 2022[6]; OECD, 2021[5]). It is certainly well established that social and ethnic homogeneity are associated with higher interpersonal trust (Zmerli and Van der Meer, 2017[23]) and that high levels of interpersonal trust contribute to high levels of institutional trust (Rothstein and Ulaner, 2005[24]). In this sense, New Zealand represents something of a paradox.

Figure 2.13 compares levels of interpersonal trust and levels of cultural diversity measured by the Greenburg Index of cultural diversity (Goren, 2013[25]). Compared to other countries with similar levels of trust, New Zealand has a high level of cultural diversity. However, compared to other countries with similar levels of cultural diversity New Zealand has high levels of trust. This suggests that high trust in New Zealand is not driven by cultural homogeneity (and might suggest that the importance of cultural homogeneity to high trust is lower than is sometimes suggested). Similarly, other countries with similar political traditions – such as the United Kingdom or Canada in Figure 2.13 - have lower levels of trust than New Zealand suggesting that New Zealand’s constitutional model is unlikely to be a key driver of high trust here.

Two factors may help explain New Zealand’s relative position of high trust and high cultural diversity. First, New Zealand has high levels of migration and according to the 2018 census over a quarter of the population is foreign born. Since the 1990s this migrant population has increasingly come from non-anglophone countries. This migrant population largely has higher levels of trust than the New Zealand average (Smith, 2020[26]).

A second important factor in New Zealand’s ability to sustain high levels of trust in a culturally heterogeneous society is that levels of trust are path-dependent. (Rothstein and Ulaner, 2005[24]) note that high levels of interpersonal trust are often grounded in effective and trustworthy institutions. Similarly, it is these high levels of interpersonal trust that support institutional quality. In effect, historical high or low levels of institutional trust are potentially self-sustaining leading to virtuous/vicious circles at the national level. New Zealand, with a long history of effective and trustworthy institutions may be in a high trust equilibrium. In these circumstances events that undermine public trust in institutions are of particular concern as they risk pushing New Zealand away from this equilibrium.

Few high-profile cases had occurred over the past years including key agencies5 where misfunctioning of public institutions received significant media attention. In all cases there were credible and strong arguments made in the media or review/inquiry reports regarding the managerial culture of the organisations in question (Easton, 2019[27]; Newsroom, 2020[28]). These focused on the impact of senior leadership culture on organisational competence. The second issue is that all three failures were publicly connected to trust in the relevant institutions and their ability to effectively perform their functions. While in all cases accountability mechanisms worked well, including through direct responsibility being taken by chief executives, and corrective measures were implemented, they shed light about the role that the media could play in shaping trust patterns and the importance of learning lessons in terms of strengthening a managerial culture that relies in technical knowledge and institutional memory.

As previously discussed, perceived economic insecurity and income levels influence institutional trust. Preserving high levels of institutional trust is key to the functioning of the New Zealand economy. Trust is essential to a country’s economic performance. In 1972 Kenneth Arrow famously argued that “virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust, certainly any transaction conducted over a period of time. It can plausibly be argued that much of the economic backwardness in the world can be explained by a lack of mutual confidence” (p.357) (Arrow, 1972[29]). Although Arrow’s argument was made before the availability of good cross-country data on trust, the emergence of such data from the early 1990s onwards has contributed to extensive empirical research on the relationship between trust and economic outcomes that largely vindicates the initial insight.

A recent systematic review of the literature on the relationship between trust and economic outcomes (Smith, 2020[26]) identifies 16 papers examining the relationship between institutional trust and the rate of economic growth. All 16 papers show a positive cross-country relationship between the rate of economic growth and institutional trust and for all but one this relationship is statistically significant at conventional levels. Looking at the relationship between trust and the level of income rather than the rate of economic growth, (Auty and Furlonge, 2019[30]; Algan and Cahuc, 2010[31]) provide convincing evidence that changing levels of institutional trust over the 20th century explain changes in levels of income and that this relationship is causal. There are also a number of studies looking at the relationship between trust and productivity (Hazeldine, 2022[32]; Coyle and Lu, 2020[33]; Smith, 2020[26]; Knack and Keefer, 1997[34]; Bjornskov and Meon, 2015[35]), which suggest that institutional trust is associated with higher multifactor productivity at the country level. In fact, it is likely that trust is a key element of multifactor productivity at the country level (Legge and Smith, 2022[36]).

Trust is important to economic outcomes, but much of its impact is not reflected in the measures of produced capital and human capital (labour) that underpin the system of national accounts and traditional measures of inputs and outputs. As a result of this, the impact of trust on the economy is largely reflected in measured multifactor productivity (Coyle and Lu, 2020[33]; Legge and Smith, 2022[36]; Smith, 2020[26]). Although New Zealand has high levels of institutional trust, multifactor productivity is only moderate (Figure 2.14). This implies that New Zealand faces a significant downside risk from falling trust. Levels of trust in New Zealand society are high by global terms and have limited scope to increase. However, there are many countries with lower levels of trust – including a number of countries with similar cultural backgrounds and histories (e.g. Australia, the United States). Moreover, large falls in trust are possible over relatively short periods of time as has been seen in the United States since 1990 (McGrath, 2017[37]).

One source of risk to New Zealand’s high trust economic model lies in its dependence on natural resource rents. Under a previous heading it was discussed the degree to which New Zealand’s total wealth stock is dominated by natural capital. This dominance is reflected in the makeup of New Zealand’s exports. Figure 2.15 shows the make-up of New Zealand’s merchandise exports (i.e. exports other than services) in 2021. Of total merchandise exports, 61.8% are primary products and 58.2% are agricultural products (the difference being aluminium and crude oil exports). However, countries with high levels of trust and high dependence on natural capital are rare (Norway being the other obvious example).

The abundance of natural resources can result in a resources curse to a large extent because the ability to extract income from economic rents from natural capital reduces the need to build effective institutions. Although New Zealand is not affected by the resource curse in its traditional form, there is reason to believe that the high level of dependence on natural capital places pressure on institutional trust.

In New Zealand natural resource allocation and management decisions are decided under the ambit of the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA). The RMA decentralises much decision making about natural capital and places this in the hands of local government (both at the regional level through regional councils and at the more local level through territorial authorities)6. When introduced the intent of the RMA was to decentralise resource management decisions and delegate these to the level where the effects of the decisions would be most strongly felt. However, more recently there has been concern that the RMA has been working ineffectively in managing natural resources.

The RMA has been criticised from a range of different perspectives with concerns around its complexity, its lack of direction, and particularly weak support for monitoring and enforcement on the part of the local bodies tasked with implementing it in practice (Fischer, 2022[38]). One issue that is of particular concern from the perspective of institutional trust is that the organisations tasked with monitoring and enforcing environmental outcomes under the RMA are also tasked with regional economic development. In some cases, the issue goes beyond policy responsibility for economic development with local bodies actually owning assets with significant environmental impacts to be monitored under the RMA (Fischer, 2022[38]).

Concerns around conflicts of interest in resource management decisions under the RMA have created a perception among some groups that decision-making around natural capital has been captured – at least partly – by vested interests (Brown, Peart and Wright, 2016[39]). Issues with water quality and allocation of water rights to dairy interests have had a high media profile in the last decade (Gudsell, 2017[40]; Corlett, 2020[41]) both due to concerns around over-allocation of water rights in dryland areas and water quality issues associated with nitrate pollution.

This is partly supported by official enquiries. For example, while prosecution decisions should be made on technical and legal grounds, elected officials such as local councillors may be directly involved in the decision-making process (Office of the Auditor General, 2011[42]). Similar issues also exist with respect to other aspects of natural capital such as the quota system that underpins fisheries management (Heron, 2016[43]). More recently the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has highlighted the significant gaps that exist in the data available to monitor natural capital (Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 2019[44]).

While New Zealand’s management of its natural resource stocks has not yet led to an observable impact on institutional trust, concerns about the lack of effective monitoring and enforcement and a perception of undue influence from vested interests are of concern. Significant reforms around resource management are currently underway. This includes repealing the RMA and replacing it with three acts: a climate change adaptation act, a strategic planning act, and a natural and built environment act. As these reforms are enacted they present a significant opportunity to shore up the infrastructure around institutional trust in New Zealand, particularly with regard to natural resource management.

As shown by OECD data and in Chapter One levels of institutional trust in New Zealand are high and have remained stable or even increased over time. Income inequality in New Zealand rose rapidly between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s and it has subsequently remained relatively stable. Figure 2.14 below shows the ratio between the 90th percentile and the 10th percentile of incomes in New Zealand – a summary measure of income inequality – over the period from 1982 to 2019. Following the economic reforms of the late 1980s and early 1990s income inequality has been relatively stable whether measured by the 90/10 ratio as in Figure 2.16 or by other measures of income inequality such as the Gini coefficient (Perry, 2019[45]). Overall, the general rise in trust measures in New Zealand in the 2004 to 2020 period likely reflects the impact of factors unrelated to income inequality or economic performance more generally.

Figure 2.17 below shows the house prices to income ratios in New Zealand compared to other OECD countries from 2000 to 2022. The increase in New Zealand has been the highest amongst countries displayed. As a result of highly expansionary monetary policy, the suspension of the loan-to-value ratio (LVR) household debt increased to 169% of disposable income and house prices to levels that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) judges to be unsustainable (OECD, 2022[46]).

Figure 2.16 shows that there is a higher level of income inequality after housing costs have been deducted from income than before. In addition, there is evidence that income inequality after housing costs increased over the period since 2000, with the 90/10 ratio of after housing cost income higher following the 2008 global financial crisis when compared to the period before it (Figure 2.17). Throughout the interviews carried out for this study spiking housing prices were mentioned as a potential reason that could affect trust by deepening current and intergenerational inequalities (See Chapter 3).

The OECD Trust Survey implemented for this case study makes it possible for the first time in New Zealand to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the determinants of trust. As presented at the beginning of this chapter the survey includes questions on trust levels of institutions Table 2.1 and 12 questions on the perception of trustworthiness of public institutions in New Zealand according to the five dimensions of the OECD Framework on the determinants of public trust presented in Table 2.2 (i.e. responsiveness, reliability, openness, integrity, fairness). The survey in New Zealand included a question about people’s confidence in government institutions to perform different tasks associated with the dimensions of the OECD framework. Figure 2.3 shows that while slightly more than 60% of the population are confident that public institutions will protect them, just 44% expect to be listened to. All in all, components pertaining to competences (i.e. responsiveness and reliability) are better assessed than those associated with values (i.e. integrity, openness and fairness).

Respondents were asked how likely or unlikely certain events or conditions were in the case of public institutions in New Zealand. The analysis links overall levels of trust with the drivers of trust for three institutions: the public service; local government as represented by local government councillors; and the parliament. The logistic regressions use as dependent variables people who trust or do not trust (the three institutions) and as explanatory variables questions on the determinants of trust as well as controls for socioeconomic characteristics (See Box 2.5).

Figure 2.18 shows the main drivers of trust in the public service in New Zealand. Responsiveness, as the extent to which public institutions will address people’s concerns about services, has the highest potential impact on trust in the public service. According to the survey, 42.7% of respondents expect that if a service is working badly and people complain about it, it will be improved. Moving from the typical New Zealander to one with slightly higher confidence (one standard deviation increase) could lead to an increase in trust in the public service by 6.3 percentage points (see Figure 2.18).

The driver with the second highest explanatory power for trust in the public service is government preparedness to protect people's lives in a future pandemic. Trust in the public service could increase by almost 5 percentage points if moving from the typical respondent to one with a slightly higher perception of government preparedness. As discussed in Chapter One, New Zealand’s response to the pandemic has been praised internationally and led to one of the lowest mortality rates around the globe. Not surprisingly – bearing in mind the COVID-19 experience – 61.8% of respondents in New Zealand consider the government to be prepared to cope with a future pandemic. Still, New Zealand remains confronted with a wide variety of risks including those deriving from climate change that call for strengthened reliability and effective disaster management plans (See Chapter 3).

Satisfaction with administrative services is the factor with the third highest explanatory power for trust in the public service in New Zealand. At a comparatively high level of 68% satisfaction with administrative services, it remains an important lever to preserve and strengthen trust in the public service. Shifting from the typical respondent on this variable to one with slightly higher confidence could lead to an increase in trust of 4.7 percentage points in trust in the public service.

While elements of competence remain the strongest predictors of trust in the public service some indicators associated with government values have additional explanatory power. Less than half (48.4%) of the New Zealand population expects that public servants will refuse a bribe to speed up access to an administrative service. Improvements on this variable from the typical respondent to one with a higher perception that bribes are refused will result in an increase in trust of about 3.9 percentage points. Elements of openness, related to the incorporation of public feedback received in public consultations, is also statistically significant, and improvements in this dimension could lead to positive changes in trust of about 3.4 percentage points (See Figure 2.18).

The second institution for which the analysis on the drivers of trust was carried out is the New Zealand Parliament. Figure 2.19 shows factors that turned out significant for levels of trust in the national parliament. The factors with the highest relative weight relate to whether or not people think their voices will be heard. People's expectations that their opinions expressed in public consultations has the highest potential impact on trust in the national parliament. Political efficacy, or the extent to which people think they have a say in what the government does, also has a relatively high potential impact on trust in the parliament. Improving external political efficacy from the typical respondent to one with a slightly higher level on this variable could lead to improvements in trust of about 4.5 percentage points, keeping all other things equal.

The second group of variables with a relatively high explanatory power on trust in parliament are related to reliability. Increasing people’s confidence on public institutions’ ability to deliver on climate change targets could increase trust levels by about 5 percentage points, keeping everything else equal. Another dimension of reliability with the potential of increasing public trust substantially refers to the stability of business conditions. Improvements on this component could result in a potential increase in trust of about 5 percentage points. Other components of reliability such as the extent to which institutions are prepared to fight future crises or satisfaction with administrative services are also significant. Yet, the starting point, i.e. the current level of these components, is much higher, 61.8% and 67.9% respectively (See Figure 2.19).

Figure 2.20 presents significant factors explaining trust in local government councillors. Elements of openness, such as having the opportunity to voice concerns on local issues and expecting that opinions expressed in public consultations will be considered, are significant. The latter is the factor with the highest relative impact, moving from the average respondent to one with a slightly higher score on this question could improve trust in local government councillors by 6.6 percentage points. Improvements in the expectations of fair treatment of people from different income levels has the potential to influence trust in local government councillors by 5.4 percentage points, the second highest relative contribution for trust in local government councillors.

Table 2.5 shows the determinants of trust in the public service, parliament and local government councillors and highlights these determinants that are significant across the three studied institutions. The positive sign within brackets indicates the institution for which the coefficient is largest when compared to the other two institutions. Improving service responsiveness and satisfaction with administrative services have a higher relative effect for trust in the public service. Preparedness to fight a future pandemic has a slightly larger coefficient for trust in local government councillors, although differences are not very large. Aspects related to openness, specifically expectations about people’s voices being heard, are significant for the three institutions analysed and has a relatively higher effect for trust in the public service.

Several control variables are included in the regressions and only interpersonal trust is consistently significant across all institutions. Feelings of economic insecurity expressed by financial concerns have also a significant effect on trust in the parliament. This is not surprising as the parliament can directly influence people’s lives through policies and choices and is sought after for responses on societal and economic issues. While there is diversity within groups, ethnicity and specifically being Māori has a weakly significant effect in trust in the public service in turn being Asian weakly influences trust in the parliament. Qualitative survey responses signal aspects related to economic insecurity and vulnerabilities as an additional lever of trust in public institutions (See Box 2.4).

This chapter presented the results of the survey on the drivers of trust in public institutions in New Zealand and discussed additional factors that can influence trust in years to come. Based on these and other quantitative results as well as the analysis of the interviews carried out with over 50 representatives from public institutions, civil society, ethnic communities and academia in New Zealand, the following chapter will discuss the type of actions that can be undertaken to preserve and strengthen trust in public institutions in New Zealand.

  • The Kiwis Count Survey is one of the primary ways by which the PSC monitors levels of confidence in public sector agencies (See Box 1.1). The survey is a commendable effort to measure customer satisfaction with services on a regular basis and report on trust in government. Nonetheless, questions on trust included in the Kiwis Count are based on the respondent’s trust in the public service brand or on most recent personal interaction with a Public Service agency. This inevitably excludes many of the most important drivers of trust. It is recommended that the Public Service Commission revises the Kiwis Count Survey to improve the relevance and comparability of the data that it collects. Key priorities in the revisions should be preserving valuable time series, improving comparability of data collected, improving the relevance and usefulness of the data collected, and minimising respondent burden. Measures of the expected responsiveness of services, the reliability of long-term policies, engagement opportunities and perceived integrity and fairness can allow monitoring the effects of different policies and actions over time as well as their relationship to trust levels. Accordingly, questions included in the Kiwis Count Survey can be complemented with measures that align with the OECD Survey on the Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions. In turn, building a time series on questions on the drivers will allow monitoring the effects of different policies and actions over time.

  • There are recurrent trust gaps between several societal groups: Māori, younger people, people outside the large urban areas, the less educated and those with lower income have consistently lower levels of trust in institutions. Indicative evidence suggests that there is important variation when looking jointly at socioeconomic characteristics within populations groups (e.g. ethnicity and education or income levels). Having samples that are sufficiently large to combine different socioeconomic characteristics (e.g. ethnicity and education level) may contribute to give visibility to wells of distrust and better target actions to engage with them.


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← 1. Local government councillors are elected representatives responsible for representing their communities in local councils for three years terms.

← 2. https://www.dia.govt.nz/Services-Local-Elections-Local-Authority-Election-Statistics-2019.

← 3. Tikanga could be translated as Māori values. Māori expressed that if Tikanga are used to guide engagement and build relationships, trust and confidence would improve. At the heart of tikanga are concepts such as tika (true, right, fair, just), pono (honest, genuine, sincere), aroha (empathy, compassion, care), mana, whanaungatanga, kotahitanga and manaakitanga - principles that were highlighted by the participants as necessary in building trust

← 4. The breakdown of people reporting that they have worked in the public sector is as follows: 59% reported that they have worked in the public sector. 14% have worked in the local government and 35% reported working in other public sector.

← 5. Specifically, these agencies refer to the Treasury and a leakage of sensitive budgetary information in May 2019. Oranga Tamariki and a 2019 case involving Oranga Tamariki attempting to uplift a week-old baby from its mother that made national headlines. Finally, The 2018 Census managed by Statistics New Zealadn failed to achieve target response rates and was a year late in providing the first outputs.

← 6. New Zealand has two levels of local government: regional councils and territorial authorities. Regional councils cover the country’s 17 regions and have responsibility for environmental management and economic development, while the 67 territorial authorities are comprised of 13 city councils, 53 district councils, and the Chatham Islands council.

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