HomeStandard PeopleTrust at an all-time low in global institutions

Trust at an all-time low in global institutions

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals the largest-ever drop in trust on the globe across the institutions of government, business, media and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

public relations with Lenox Mhlanga

Trust in media (43%) fell precipitously and is at all-time lows in 17 countries, while trust levels in government (41%) dropped in 14 markets and is the least trusted institution in half of the 28 countries surveyed.

The credibility of leaders also is in peril — chief executive officers credibility dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37%, plummeting in every country studied, while government leaders (29%) remain least credible.

Edelman is a global communications marketing firm that partners with many of the world’s largest and emerging businesses and organisations, helping them evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer is the firm’s 17th annual trust and credibility survey. The survey was done by research firm Edelman Intelligence and consisted of 25-minute online interviews conducted between October 13 and November 16 last year.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled more than 33 000 respondents, consisting of 1 150 general population respondents ages 18 and over and 500 informed public respondents in the United States and China and 200 informed public respondents in all other countries across 28 markets.

All informed publics met the following criteria — ages 25-64, college-educated; household income in the top quartile for their age in their country; read or watch business/news media at least several times a week; follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week
The Trust Barometer found that 53% of respondents believe the current overall system has failed them — it is unfair and offers little hope for the future — while only 15% believe it is working, and approximately one-third are uncertain.

Even the elites have a lack of faith in the system, with 48% of the top quartile in income, 49% of the college-educated, and most of the well-informed (51%) saying the system has failed.

The gap between the trust held by the informed public and that of the mass population has widened to 15 points, with the biggest disparities in the US (21 points), UK (19 points) and France (18 points). The mass population in 20 countries distrusts their institutions, compared to only six for the informed public.

“The implications of the global trust crisis are deep and wide-ranging,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “It began with the Great Recession of 2008, but like the second and third waves of a tsunami, globalisation and technological change have further weakened people’s trust in global institutions. The consequence is virulent populism and nationalism as the mass population has taken control away from the elites.”

Current populist movements are fuelled by a lack of trust in the system and economic and societal fears, including corruption (40%), immigration (28%), globalisation (27%), eroding social values (25%) and the pace of innovation (22%).

Countries coupling a lack of faith in the system with deep fears, such as the US, UK and Italy, have seen the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and the failed Italian referendum.

The cycle of distrust is magnified by the emergence of a media echo chamber that reinforces personal beliefs while shutting out opposing points of view. Respondents favour search engines (59%) over human editors (41%) and are nearly four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they do not believe in.

“People now view media as part of the elite,” said Edelman. “The result is a proclivity for self-referential media and reliance on peers. The lack of trust in media has also given rise to the fake news phenomenon and politicians speaking directly to the masses. Media outlets must take a more local and social approach.”

There is evidence of even further dispersion of authority. A person like yourself (60%) is now just as credible a source of information about a company as is a technical (60%) or academic (60%) expert, and far more credible than a CEO (37%) and government official (29%).

Of the four institutions, business is viewed as the only one that can make a difference. Three out of four respondents agree a company can take actions to both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates. Moreover, among those who are uncertain about whether the system is working for them, it is business (58%) that they trust most.

Yet business finds itself on the brink of distrust and perhaps most concerning for business is the perceived role the public sees it playing in stoking their fears. Most of the global population surveyed worries about losing their jobs due to the impacts of globalisation (60%), lack of training or skills (60%), immigrants who work for less (58%), jobs moving to cheaper markets (55%) and automation (54%).

Other key findings from the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer include:

*Trust in business (52%) dropped in 18 countries, while NGOs (53%) saw drop-offs as high as 10 points across 21 countries.

*Employees, on average, are trusted 16 points more than CEOs on messaging around employee/customer relations (53%), financial earnings (38%), crises (37%), innovation (33%), industry issues (32%) or programmes addressing societal issues (30%).

*Half of the countries surveyed have lost faith in the system, led by France (72%) and Italy (72%), Mexico (67%), South Africa (67%) and Spain (67%).

*Trust in traditional media fell five points to 57%, the steepest decline among platforms since 2012, followed by social media (41%), which dropped three points. By contrast, online-only media (51%) received the biggest bump in trust at five points.

“Business is the last retaining wall for trust,” said Kathryn Beiser, global chair of Edelman’s Corporate practice. “Its leaders must step up on the issues that matter for society. It has done a masterful job of illustrating the benefits of innovation but has done little to discuss the impact those advances will have on people’s jobs.”

Business should also focus on paying employees fairly, while providing better benefits and job training, Beiser says.

Lenox Mhlanga is an associate consultant with Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants voted African PR Consultancy of the Year 2016 by The Homes Report. He can be contacted on +263 772 400 656 Email:

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