The public’s trust in institutions remains at all-time lows, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Now in its 20th year, the global survey recorded widespread levels of distrust despite a strong global economy. 

The report argues distrust is being driven by a growing sense of inequity and unfairness in the system; income inequality now has a greater effect on trust than economic growth.

Australia remains in distrust territory, dropping one point in the global trust index, from 48 to 47.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2020“We are living in a trust paradox,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman.

“Since we began measuring trust 20 years ago, economic growth has fostered rising trust. This continues in Asia and the Middle East but not in developed markets, where national income inequality is now the more important factor. Fears are stifling hope, and long-held assumptions about hard work leading to upward mobility are now invalid.” 

The findings are based on a survey of more than 34,000 people in 28 countries. 

Among the respondents, fear outweighs hope. For example, 83 per cent employees globally are worried about job loss due to automation, a looming recession, lack of training, cheaper foreign competition, immigration and the gig economy. 

Nearly two in three feel the pace of technological change is too fast and 76 per cent say they worry about fake news being used as a weapon. 

The study examined two pillars of trust: competence and ethics. These factors–delivering on promises and doing the right thing–determine how much trust citizens place in an organisation. 

Of the four institutions included in the annual study surveys–government, NGOs, media and business–none are seen as both competent and ethical. 

Edelman Trust Barometer

Business ranks highest in competence, holding a massive 54-point edge over government as an institution that is good at what it does (64 per cent vs 10 per cent). NGOs lead on ethical behaviour over government (a 31-point gap) and business (a 25-point gap). Government and media are perceived as both incompetent and unethical. 

Trust in technology companies, while still high, has declined four points. 

Trust Gap 

Edelman surveys two distinct cohorts: informed public and the mass population. Wealthier, more educated, and frequent consumers of news, referred to as the ‘informed public’ are much more trusting of all institutions than the general population. 

In many markets, including Australia, there are all-time-high gaps between the two audiences. Globally, there is a 14-point gap between the informed public (65) and the mass population (51). 

In a majority of markets, less than half of the mass population trust their institutions to do what is right. 

Business (58 per cent) is the most trusted institution, taking the lead role in global governance. While 92 per cent of employees say CEOs should speak out on issues of the day, including retraining, the ethical use of technology and income inequality. 

“Business has leapt into the void left by populist and partisan government,” said Edelman. “It can no longer be business as usual, with an exclusive focus on shareholder returns. With 73 per cent of employees saying they want the opportunity to change society, and nearly two-thirds of consumers identifying themselves as belief-driven buyers, CEOs understand that their mandate has changed.”

 The Australian edition of the Trust Barometer is launching on February 20, 2020. 

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