The results of the ninth annual Edelman Trust Barometer show that the trust gap was greatest in the US, where 58% of respondents said they trust business to do the right thing versus 39% for government.
"Companies need to use that trust asset with even more caution as we enter uncertain economic times," said Laurence Evans, president of StrategyOne, the research firm who worked with Edelman on the survey.
For the first time, the study included 25- to 34-year-old "opinion elites" in 12 countries, including the US and BRIC nations. This demographic also tends to put a lot of trust in business.
"[They] are more willing to listen to many voices, and, given that they are the business leaders of tomorrow, their openness is part of a sea change," said Evans. "They're more open to hearing many points of view through many different channels."
Still, the most trusted people are analysts, academics, and "a person like me."
"Word of mouth is still as important as ever," added Evans. "The average employee is twice as trusted as the CEO, so they need others to tell the [company's] story, as well as themselves."
The study also noted a bump in trust in the media, with increases from previous studies in eight countries. Business titles are most trusted, but mainstream media is the most widely used source of information about companies. Among the younger respondents, 55% say Wikipedia is a credible source of information.
"Media is more flexible and personal, more market-responsive," Evans noted.
Among other findings, technology is still the most trusted sector in 17 of 18 countries, while only 20% of respondents trust corporate or product advertising.
The study was conducted using phone surveys in October and November of 2007.