Edelman Trust Barometer: Trust in Malaysia rises despite political turmoil

However, trust is built on fragile foundations such as a need for better healthcare and education.


The 2021 edition of Edelman’s Trust Barometer in Malaysia showed increase in trust in all institutions—government, business, media, and NGOs. The Southeast Asian nation achieved an average trust score of 66 points, rising by six points from 2020 and climbing two spots to seventh position on the Global Trust Index ranking.  

According to a press release by Edelman, the country’s trust success was encouraged by “affirmative institutional action” in managing the pandemic. But the actual Trust report doesn’t demonstrate statistical evidence to prove the link between the increase in trust and institutional action towards the pandemic. While the country began its anti-Covid campaign with much success in March last year, mismanagement led to a far worse second wave of infections by September that hasn’t yet been entirely controlled.

And despite political uncertainty and turmoil that led to a shock power grab and change in government last year, the report’s results show that trust in government increased by seven points and stays above water on its ethical score. However, on its competence score, the government lagged behind the media, NGOs and businesses.

The report highlighted that trust in the country is built on fragile foundations, as escalating pandemic fears have created a dramatic increase in the urgency for all four institutions to find solutions for critical societal problems. When asked whether certain issues have become more or less important since last year, improving the healthcare system has become 62 points more important, along with addressing poverty and improving the education system.

On top of that, inequities are deepening in Malaysia with 66 per cent of the population agreeing that those with less money, education and fewer resources seem to be unfairly burdened with the most suffering, risk of illness and need to sacrifice during the pandemic. This is four notches higher than the global average, and higher than neighbours Singapore and Indonesia.

“We are living in a time when Malaysians’ trust in institutions carries high stakes in the recovery of the country’s public health and economy,” said Christopher de Cruz, group director and head of crisis management at Edelman Malaysia.

The thing that worried Malaysians most in the past year is job loss; a whopping 89 per cent felt said they were worried by this, which was about 10 per cent higher than the proportion of those who were worried about contracting Covid.

Additionally, the pandemic is not only a concern in itself, but has also heightened the concerns Malaysians had before the pandemic. For instance, 65 per cent worry that the pandemic will accelerate job loss due to automation, while more than half of surveyed respondents having witnessed layoffs or reductions in the workforce of the companies they work for. 

When it comes to information sources, 65 per cent believe that most news organisations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than informing the public about truthful facts, while almost half of surveyed respondents believe the media is not being objective and non-partisan in their news reporting. This has prompted Malaysians to seek alternative sources for information, and to increasingly lean on social media  and search, both of which saw an increase in points last year.

But of course, news on social media and search are not always reliable which has led to a dip in information hygiene in Malaysia. The study showed that 65 per cent of respondents share or forward news items that they find to be interesting, but of those, only 29 per cent practice good information hygiene, which means that a significant amount of unvetted information is being consumed and disseminated among Malaysians.

As ever, business leaders are looked up to as a beacon of trust and change. In Malaysia, businesses have emerged as the single most credible and trusted source of information for most Malaysians, with 66 per cent voting ‘my employer’ as the most trusted source of information to help navigate the crisis, even higher than government communications (60%) and news media reports (63%). 

Aside from dealing with the effects of the pandemic, leaders are also expected to lead with empathy in driving positive change and demonstrating accountability to the communities they serve. The report showed that 83 per cent percent think that CEOs should step in to complement the government’s efforts in fixing societal problems. Top of the to-do list for CEOs is to publicly speak out on societal challenges ranging from the pandemic’s impact, job automation, and local community issues.

One particularly worrying find from the report is the high percentage of vaccine hesitancy. Only 28 per cent among those willing to get vaccinated preferred to do so as soon as possible, whereas 41 per cent would prefer waiting six months to a year. Recently, the government has had to allay concerns about the pace of vaccinations in Malaysia, with its programme being perceived as not fast enough.

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