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Born, David and Fatke, Matthias (2020): Rainmaker or rent-seeker? Associational landscapes and generalized trust of non-members. In: Acta Politica, Vol. 55, No. 4: pp. 587-628

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Being at the center of social capital, voluntary associations are generally thought to play a crucial role for the functioning of civil society and democracy. Several studies, however, cast doubt on the contention that associations are the foundation of generalized trust. Our study wishes to provide new insights: first by aggregating aspects of associations to associational landscapes in terms of number of associations, their financial condition, connectedness to local politics, frequency of meetings, and activities taking place at the municipal level;and second by taking non-members into account. We argue associational landscapes matter particularly for non-members: Their generalized trust is either diminished since associations serve as what Fukuyama calls 'rent-seeking' tool for their members only or non-members benefit from what Putnam calls 'rainmaking effect' of vibrant associational landscapes. To test both arguments empirically, we present an original data set combining a survey among voluntary associations in 57 Swiss municipalities with a previously conducted population survey of their residents. Results of multilevel models give clear support to the rainmaker hypothesis. These findings can contribute to our understanding of the foundations of social capital.

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