Trust in crisis

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs in the 17 years of the survey.

Directors grappling with the implications of a rising tide of populist sentiment will not be surprised by the findings, which the researchers describe as a “global implosion of trust.”

More than half of the respondents to the global survey – run across 28 countries, with over 30,000 respondents, dividing the survey between ‘informed public’ and ‘mass population’ (see below) – believe that the current system has failed them and is unfair.

The survey also found that the credibility of leaders was at its lowest level – CEO credibility fell to an all-time low of 37 per cent globally but far lower in Australia at 26 per cent. The survey report draws out ten key insights from the 2017 data.

  1. Trust in Crisis: Trust in the institutions of media, government, business and NGOs has dropped. In 20 of the 28 countries surveyed – including Australia – more than half of the mass population respondents distrust their institutions.

  2. Trust inequality: The gap in trust between the ‘informed public’ and ‘mass population’ groups is at its highest level in the survey’s seventeen year history, at 15 points.

  3. A broken system: Over half of respondents globally believe the system is not working for them (50% for Australia).

  4. Concerns and fears: Driving the embrace of populism are fears about corruption, eroding social values, globalization, immigration and concern over the pace of change.

  5. Failing system + fear = action: 10 of the 28 countries surveyed – including Australia – combine an above average lack of belief that the system is working with multiple societal fears. In Australia, as in other places, this is leading a resurgence in populist political parties.

  6. The media echo chamber: People are almost four times as likely to ignore information that supports a position they don’t agree with, and are more likely to believe information from search engines over human editors. In Australia, the decline in trust in the media has been significant – the informed public’s trust has dropped by 14 points to 40%, and for the mass population group Australia’s trust in media at 32% is amongst the world’s lowest.

  7. Peers highly credible: For the first time, “a person like yourself” is seen as at least as credible as an academic or technical expert.

  8. Business adds to fears: Globally, over half of respondents feel the pace of change in business and industry is too fast. Concerns include automation, immigration, lack of training and skills, and offshoring. This is feeding support for anti-business policies – almost 1 in 2 respondents oppose free trade agreements and 72% support protectionist trade policies even if it slows economic growth.

  9. High expectations for business: The three most important attributes for building trust in companies are treating employees well, offering high quality products, and listening to customers. Employees are viewed as the most credible spokespeople for business, as trust in the c-suite and boardroom continues to decline.

  10. With the people: Edelman argues that the turst crisis demands a new operating model of listening to stakeholders and tapping into peers and employees to lead communication and advocacy.

75 per cent of global respondents agree that companies can both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions. The survey also outlines five actions that businesses must avoid to further damage trust:

  • Paying bribes
  • Paying executives hundreds of times more than workers
  • Moving profits to other countries to avoid tax
  • Overcharge for essential products and services
  • Lower costs by reducing quality of products

In discussing the Australian results, Edelman notes that:

“Business now has a clear opportunity to rebuild trust by recognizing the need to do things differently. We must forget the neat separation of communication and executive function. We need a holistic approach that puts people at the centre of engagement, not just as one more audience to be reached.”


About the Edelman Trust Barometer

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer is the firm’s 17th annual trust and credibility survey. The survey was done by research firm Edelman Intelligence and consisted of 25-minute online interviews conducted on October 13th – November 16th, 2016. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled more than 33,000 respondents consisting of 1,150 general population respondents ages 18 and over and 500 informed public respondents in the U.S. and China and 200 informed public respondents in all other countries across 28 markets. All informed publics met the following criteria: ages 25-64, college-educated; household income in the top quartile for their age in their country; read or watch business/news media at least several times a week; follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week.