Existing studies of the impact of economic development on political trust in China have two major gaps: they fail to explain how economic development contributes to the hierarchical trust pattern, and they do not pay enough attention to the underlying mechanisms. In light of cultural theory and political control theory, we propose adapting performance theory into a theory of “asymmetrical attribution of performance” to better illuminate the case of China. This adapted theory leads to dual pathway theses: expectation fulfillment and local blaming. Using a multilevel mediation model, we show that expectation fulfillment mainly upholds trust in the central government, whereas local blaming undermines trust in local governments. We also uncover a rural–urban distinction in the dual pathway, revealing that both theses are more salient among rural Chinese.

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