Political distrust has been the norm, rather than the exception, in many established democracies in recent decades. Despite a wealth of data tracking deteriorating citizen attitudes towards their governments, representatives and political systems in general, there is still a debate regarding the meaning of distrust and its significance for the health of democracies. This article contributes to the discussion by providing qualitative evidence that map the meaning, evaluative dimensions and spill-over process of distrusting political attitudes. It finds, across the three national contexts studied, that citizens express political distrust using similar language and employing the same evaluative structure. Evidence suggests that political distrust is intertwined with the failure of representation and entails a fundamentally ethical dimension. This article concludes with a discussion regarding the implications of these findings for research on diffuse support in democratic systems.
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