An important precondition of successful democratic consolidation is voters’ confidence that political institutions do not abuse their privileged position of power. Seeking to identify variables that explain trust in political institutions, the paper tests different theories of institutional trust with individual-level survey data from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Building on prior research, two competitive theories—the cultural and performance explanation—are identified and tested, while also controlling for the effects of party preference, ethnicity, and socio-demographic factors. The results show that both cultural and performance variables influence citizens’ trust in political institutions. In other words, institutional trust depends on how much the individual trusts other people as well as on how well they believe the economic and the political system to function. Besides cultural and performance variables, most control variables also proved to be significantly associated with institutional trust, confirming the need to include correct control variables in models of institutional trust.

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