Trust Barometer spring update finds a distrustful world in trauma

The public increasingly trusts business and looks to CEOs to make transformative societal changes, according to the research series' latest report.

(Photo credit: Getty Images).
(Photo credit: Getty Images).

CHICAGO: Mistrust is continuing to grow in a world still very much in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to this year's spring update to the Edelman Trust Barometer, released on Thursday. 

The decline of trust across all institutions persists, according to the online survey of more than 16,800 people in 14 markets around the world from April 30 to May 11. The index also referenced data from earlier Edelman surveys and in some cases made comparisons among subsets of data from the overall research.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they trust business to do the right thing; 58% thought that way about the government and 54% about NGOs. Only 47% of those asked said they trust the media to do the right thing. Employers remain the most trusted institution, with 77% of respondents saying they trust their employers.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (65%) are still in a pandemic mindset, and vaccinations aren't bringing peace of mind about resuming normal activities. Among those surveyed who are fully vaccinated, only 52% were willing to resume shopping in stores, 50% willing to visit doctor's offices, 37% willing to go to the office, 35% willing to dine indoors and 25% willing to send their kids to school. 

And they are turning to businesses to address issues typically left for governments to manage, said Edelman CEO Richard Edelman. 

"Businesses actually had a pretty good pandemic," he said. "They delivered vaccines, supplied PPE, kept workers protected and functioning remotely, and stock markets were up. Even though there were furloughs, people like Marriott told the truth, and did it well, whereas on the other side of the house you had hydroxychloroquine." 

In the January edition of the survey, business edged out government as a trusted institution, and the trend only continued with the private sector widening its lead over government in the spring. Trust in business increased over government in 11 of the 14 countries since January, and government trust dropped from 65% last May to 58% in the most recent survey. 

For the first time, employees have become the most important stakeholder group at 40%; and 72% trust in CEOs has led to a demand for public advocacy on issues from voting rights to wages. 

However, Edelman warns that over-reliance on business as a savior is not stable or sustainable in the long term because overpromising and under-delivering could backfire with the traumatized public.

Businesses should instead be wary of the increase in inequality as a result of the pandemic, which is shown in the 17-point gap between trust of the informed public and mass population. The number of billionaires on the 2021 Forbes list has grown by 700 to 2,700.

"Beware the pedestal because fame is fleeting, particularly if you're held responsible for things you don't really control," he said. "CEOs are not elected." 

Trust in news sources are still at record lows, with only 52% of respondents saying they trust traditional media, 40% trusting owned media and 34% trusting social media. Employer media is still the most believable source of information, with 59% of those surveyed saying they trust it compared to 54% trusting government media, 43% advertising and 35% social media. 

"I look at that as a really important channel to reach employees not just in a classic, PR speak way, but openly about getting a vaccine and presenting overwhelming evidence that it's safe," Edelman said. 

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