New Delhi: A recently published report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) called Governments at a Glance has attracted widespread attention in the country as it seems to suggest that people in India repose great trust in the Indian government. While at first glance, the headline numbers seem to suggest that confidence in the Indian government has peaked under Narendra Modi’s leadership, a closer look at the numbers suggest a different reality.
The OECD rankings indeed show that India is ranked third (behind Switzerland and Indonesia) among OECD countries and other major economies in terms of trust in national governments in 2016. But this is not a new development. Both in 2007 and 2016, levels of trust in government in India were much higher than OECD averages.
In fact, the share of Indians who trust their government has fallen over the last 10 years, as the fact-checking website Alt News pointed out. The OECD report shows that 82% of Indians trusted their national government in 2007, much higher than the current figure of 73%, suggesting that the current levels of trust are not unprecedented. The proportion of people in the country who trusted the government did fall sharply to 55% in 2013 but it has risen again since then, the OECD data shows.
The OECD report is based on survey data culled from the Gallup World Poll, which raises more questions than they answer. According to the Gallup polls, Indians had better assessments of education and judicial systems than an average citizen in an OECD country in both 2007 and 2016. Even on health services, Indians had the highest satisfaction levels when compared to their peers in countries such as Russia, China, South Africa and Brazil.
India’s courts are notorious for delays in administering justice. Educational outcomes in schools have worsened over the past decade in India. Out-of-pocket health expenditure is among the highest in India. In the face of such facts, the Gallup poll findings appear surprising, to say the least.
The Gallup polls are based on either telephonic or face-to-face interviews conducted in local languages. The interviewees are drawn from random samples keeping in mind the demographic characteristics of the country. However, the maximum sample size for a given country does not go beyond 2000, which means that for a large and diverse country such as India, the accuracy of results may be compromised.
As far as confidence in national government is concerned, response is sought on just one question on whether or not people have trust in their governments. Most importantly, it does not differentiate between politicians and government bureaucracy in the survey question. This makes it difficult to judge what the survey question precisely measures.
The limitations of the Gallup polls mean that we must treat the OECD rankings based on these polls with caution.