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Individuals’ endorsement of standards of civic honesty is necessary for democracies to flourish. A critical driver of civic honesty is the relationship of trust between individuals and institutions. Research has yet to systematically assess the contextual factors that may moderate this relationship. In this study, we examined the societal influence of organized criminal groups. Criminal groups operate as alternative systems of authority that erode the reliability of institutions’ moral standards. We employed a new indicator that quantifies their societal influence to test the hypothesis that the association between individuals’ political trust and civic honesty would weaken in countries more strongly affected by criminal groups. Multilevel evidence across 83 representative national samples (N = 128,839) supported this hypothesis. Moreover, the association between political trust and civic honesty was negative in contexts where criminal groups’ influence was more extreme. We discuss the implications of the findings and future research directions.
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