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How do coups affect social trust? Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the prevalence of  coups, in particular across West Africa.

Although significant attention has been paid to the effects of  other forms of political violence and instability on social trust, to date very little research has  considered how social trust is affected by coups, which represent a distinctive form of intra-elite  conflict. Building on insights from work in philosophy and social psychology, we conceptualise trust  as an adaptive response to vulnerability. Coups represent moments of violent competition for power  between elites that create uncertainty about the state as a provider of security and essential  services.

Consequently, we argue that social trust will increase in response to coups, as a means of  offsetting this uncertainty and insecurity. We exploit a unique natural experiment in Burkina Faso to  identify the causal effect of coups on social trust, using data from a survey that was in the field  during September 2022, when Burkina Faso experienced its second coup of that year.

This provides  robust evidence that coups can increase social trust, and further analysis supports the proposed  mechanism that increased social trust following the coup was a response to uncertainty and  insecurity. For external validity, analysis of cross-national survey data from the Afrobarometer series  suggests that the positive relationship between coup exposure and social trust holds more broadly.


Photo by Anne Girardin for USAID.



Thomas Brailey

Thomas Brailey is an MPhil student in comparative government in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.

Robin Harding

Robin Harding is a professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.

Thomas Isbell

Thomas Isbell is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa, University of Cape Town.