We present findings that document one way in which a society’s culture can affect political outcomes. Examining an annual panel of democratic countries over six decades, we show that severe economic downturns are more likely to cause political turnover in countries that have lower levels of generalized trust. We find no such relationship in non-democratic countries or on irregular leader turnover. This pattern is consistent with a mechanism that works through accountability and the electoral process. As further corroboration of this mechanism, we find that the effects of trust are greatest during years with regularly-scheduled elections and within democracies with a parliamentary system, a fully free media, and more stability. The estimates suggest that generalized trust significantly affects political institutions by influencing the extent to which citizens attribute economic downturns to the mistakes of politicians.