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Gavel: Court Gavel – Judge’s Gavel – Courtroom by wp paarz licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED. Hue modified from the original.

Pedro C. Magalhães & Nuno Garoupa (2023) Populist governments, judicial independence, and public trust in the courts, Journal of European Public Policy, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2023.2235386


Can governments make courts politically compliant without undermining public confidence in the judicial system? Many studies show a positive relationship between judicial independence and citizens’ trust in courts. However, most of them have shown static cross-sectional correlations rather than actual effects of court curbing on trust. Factors such as citizens’ level of education and political preferences may also play a role in moderating reactions to court curbing. We analyse how assaults on judicial independence by populist governments in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland affected judicial trust, using a difference-in-differences approach to Eurobarometer data. While we find evidence that court curbing has an adverse effect on judicial trust, this effect is much clearer among citizens who are ideologically distant from their governments. These findings coincide with experimental evidence indicating how citizens tolerate democratic backsliding, suggesting that, for many, trust in the judicial system can subsist even when courts are made politically subservient.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.