Working Paper No. 1356

A Stranger Thing? Sweden – The Upside Down of Multilevel Trust

Published: September 24, 2020Pages: 18Keywords: Trust; Multi-level trust; Accountability; Impartiality; Corruption; Local government; Decentralisation; Sweden JEL-codes: D02; H70

A Stranger Thing? Sweden – The Upside Down of Multilevel Trust Gissur Erlingsson

There are good reasons to expect that citizens will appreciate local government more than central government. Sure enough, previous studies have found support for this assumption. Nevertheless, I will argue that it is theoretically far too simple to think that decentralization and citizen’s proximity to decision-making by definition trumps centralization and distance. As with comparative country studies, institutional quality must be taken into account in analyses of local government and multilevel trust.

To illustrate this point, a closer investigation of Sweden – a decentralised, high-trust and low-corruption country – is conducted. Looking back over the past 20 years, and studying several indicators of trust, Sweden turns out to be a curious outlier from the general pattern: Swedes trust municipalities far less than the state. Ex ante, these findings are puzzling. To make them intelligible, while at the same time aiming to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of multilevel trust, I argue that the unfortunate combination of three factors have brought about this curious circumstance:

1) the far-reaching decentralisation and principal role Swedish municipalities have successively been given in implementing assignments which lie at the heart of Swedish welfare state policies;

2) that several of the municipalities’ assignments are particularly susceptible to corruption; and

3) that the increase in responsibilities as well as the increased danger zones for corruption has not been accompanied by institutions that ensure transparency and checks-and-balances in local government, ultimately leaving Swedish local government with institutions that obfuscate accountability.  


Erlingsson, Gissur Ó (2020), "A Stranger Thing? Sweden – The Upside Down of Multilevel Trust". IFN Working Paper No. 1356. Stockholm: Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN).

Interdisciplinary European Studies

The European Union and the Return of the Nation State


This book explores the complex and ever-changing relationship between the European Union and its member states. The recent surge in tension in this relationship has been prompted by the actions of some member state governments as they question fundamental EU values and principles and refuse to implement common decisions seemingly on the basis of narrowly defined national interests.

About the book


Seminars organized by IFN


To present ongoing research informal brown-bag seminars are held on Mondays at 11:30 am. This is an opportunity for IFN researchers to test ideas and results.

Academically oriented seminars are most of the time held on Wednesdays at 10 am. At these events researchers from IFN and other institutions present their research.

In addition, IFN organizes seminars open to the public. Topics for these are derived from the IFN research.

Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Grevgatan 34 - 2 fl, Box 55665, SE-102 15 Stockholm, Sweden | Phone: +46-(0)8-665 45 00 |