Edelman Trust Barometer: US has biggest gap between elites, general population

There was a 20-point difference in trust in institutions by the general public and the informed public in the US, compared with 12% globally.

NEW YORK: Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer found the largest gap in trust between the informed public and the population at large exists in the US, particularly when it comes to how much money respondents make.

Globally, this year’s barometer reported a record 12-point difference in trust of government, business, media, and NGOs between its two sets of respondents: the informed public and the mass population. The distrust is "driven by income inequality and divergent expectations of the future," according to the firm. Domestically, there was a nearly 20-point difference.

Edelman collected data through an online survey of more than 33,000 respondents in 28 countries. While the general population set is comprised of individuals age 18 years and older, the informed public group falls into four categories: 25 to 64 years old, has a college education, income in the top 25% "per age group in each country," and has "significant media consumption and engagement in business news."

The role income inequality plays in trust is palpable in the US, where there is a 31-point gap between high- and low-income respondents, the greatest of 18 countries where there was a trust gap of 10 points or higher.

"We are now observing the inequality of trust around the world," Edelman global president and CEO Richard Edelman said, in a statement. "This brings a number of potential consequences including the rise of populist politicians, the blocking of innovation, and the onset of protectionism and nativism." Edelman was not immediately available for comment.

The US also saw a double-digit difference – 18 points – between the informed public and mass population in terms of how they believe they’ll be faring five years from now.  Only 45% of the mass population is optimistic about it, the data showed.  

While CEOs’ credibility jumped 8% year-over-year with the general population, that group is still more likely to put more stock in what "a person like yourself" says than an executive. That category increased its trust in people like themselves to 63% from 57% last year.

More than half of both the informed public and the general population trusts NGOs and business, but that’s not the case with media and government, with the general population’s trust dipping below 50% for both. Just more than half (51%) of the informed public trusts government, while 57% of that group said they trust the media, up from 51% in 2015.

Among business sectors, technology was the most trusted despite dipping slightly year-over-year. The financial services sector made it above 51% this year among the general public, despite only hitting 43% in 2012.

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