Trust in media and government rising - but less so among lower demographics, finds Edelman Trust Barometer

Edelman's Trust Barometer 2016 found that public trust in UK institutions rebounded last year, with traditional media a particular winner - although it also found a growing 'trust gap' between the UK's haves and have nots.

Edelman's Trust Barometer: 'Informed public' (in dark blue) trusts institutions more than the general population
Edelman's Trust Barometer: 'Informed public' (in dark blue) trusts institutions more than the general population

The report, available in full on Edelman's website, is now in its 16th year, includes 2,500 surveys sent to a cross-section of the UK public, and a total of 33,000 respondents globally.

It shows that levels of trust in UK government, media, businesses and NGOs have all risen since last year, and are now at post-recession highs in all cases other than NGOs.

However, it also found that that increase in trust was much greater among what the survey calls 'informed public' – those with more education, money and an interest in current affairs – than the general population. This means the informed public is now substantially more trusting of all four categories of institutions than the general population, in particular of media and government.

Trust in media rose from 38 per cent among informed public and 33 per cent among the general population in 2015, to 52 per cent among informed public and 36 per cent among general population for 2016.

For government, the 2016 numbers of 55 per cent (informed public) and 36 per cent (general population) are up from 2015's 43 per cent and 34 per cent respectively.

Business saw the most modest increases in trust – 2016's figures of 60 per cent (informed) and 46 per cent (general) being respective rises of just eight percentage points and two percentage points.

Despite the charity sector seeing plenty of bad headlines in 2015, the levels of trust in NGOs (61 per cent and 50 per cent for the two categories), were up by 10 and four percentage points respectively since 2015.

Media not totally off the hook

One of the key findings within the questions on media was that 'traditional media' were trusted by 70 per cent of respondents, versus 62 per cent of respondents trusting 'online search engines', 49 per cent trusting 'hybrid media' and only 43 per cent trusting 'owned media'.

Some 59 per cent of respondents also agreed that social media were less trustworthy than the sources they grew up with.

However, the survey shows that the media are not fully recovered from the damaging scandals such as phone hacking that have plagued it in recent years – only 37 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: "The media’s conduct and ethics are less of an issue than in recent years."

Just over one in five (82 per cent) of respondents agreed with the statement: "We all need more trustworthy information about the world around us."

Ed Williams, chief executive of Edelman UK, said: "Even with new ways of finding news and entertainment online, the traditional media are still at the heart of people’s consumption. Even by following search engines or using social media, they are still coming across the same familiar media brands, especially in news."

Business and the trust gap

While the survey shows positive signs for businesses, beneath the headline figure there is a huge contrast between those earning more than £100,000 a year, 67 per cent of whom record trust in UK businesses, and the mere 35 per cent of those earning less than £15,000 who trust private firms.

Top reasons given for improved trust in businesses among the informed public were 'better performance or more competent leaders' (cited by 40 per cent of all these respondents) and 'better regulations or control' (27 per cent), while the mass population's top reasons were 'increased transparency' (28 per cent), followed by better regulation (25 per cent).

On the trust gap between the survey's informed public and the UK as a whole, Williams said: "To close this trust gap, politicians and business leaders have to convince the people who are suffering most through austerity of their empathy and their good intent. If our society doesn’t win back the trust of those who feel discarded, we will only have ourselves to blame if false prophets fill that gap."

The UK's overall, cross-sector 40 per cent 'trust in institutions' score means the country remains classified by Edelman among the 'distrusters' (in green on graphic on right).

The median trust level globally is 48 per cent, with individual countries' scores ranging from China's 71 per cent and the UAE's 65 per cent, through to 45 per cent in the US, 42 per cent in Germany, 39 per cent in Ireland, and the least trusting nation of all, Poland, on 34 per cent.

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