The crisis in trust in Australia's institutions has deepened, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, a global survey on institutional trust conducted by public relations firm Edelman.

The barometer has registered declines in trust in all four institutional groups it covers – government, media, business and NGOs. Trust in NGOs, which had previously been the only institutional group above the critical 50 per cent threshold, fell four points to 48 per cent, while trust in business fell three points to 45 per cent, media fell one point to 31 per cent and government fell two points to 35 per cent. Edelman classifies an institutional group as distrusted if it falls below 50 per cent. Trust levels have collapsed over the last two years with trust in government and media registering double digit declines over the period, while the story is not much cheerier for business and NGOs, which have seen nine and seven point declines respectively. All four institutional groups are now at five year lows in terms of trust.

A business opportunity?

Even though business saw a decline in levels of trust, it needs to take advantage of its relatively trusted position compared to government to address social issues, according to Steve Spurr, CEO of Edelman Australia.

“It is deeply troubling that a majority of Australians believe their government is broken, however there is also an opportunity for businesses to stand up for the public on issues they believe are not being addressed,” Spurr says. Spurr cites the result that 65 per cent of Australians believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government as evidence that business' mandate has broadened.

AGS

While trust in media is the lowest of the four institutional groups, the survey results show a bifurcation in trust in the industry. Trust in traditional media was resurgent, rising 15 points to 61 per cent, while trust in search engines fell 11 points to 47 per cent and social media fell five points to 23 per cent due to the problem of 'fake news' on the platforms.

No global recovery

Meanwhile, the 2018 Barometer registered no general recovery in the levels of trust in institutions globally, following the results from the 2017 Barometer that recorded the largest ever decline in trust in a single year over the 17 years the survey has been conducted.

The 2018 report, based on an online survey of over 33,000 people in 28 countries between October and November last year, divides respondents into an informed public category and a general population category. Among the general population, trust globally in NGOs was steady at 53 per cent trusted, business at 52 per cent and media at 43 per cent, while there was a small two point rise for government from a low level of 41 per cent. Among the informed public – which Edelman defines as college-educated and in the top 25 per cent of household income per age group in each country – trust in NGOs fell from 67 to 64, business from 65 to 64, while government and media were both steady at 53.

The steepest declines in trust were seen in the United States with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutional groups, with the decline in levels of trust among the informed public particularly severe. The fall in trust in the US is an epochal event, according to Edelman's Vice Chairman, Public Affairs, Steve Schmidt.

"This year’s shattering loss of trust in the United States represents a hinge moment in history," Schmidt writes in the Edelman report. "[T]he US liberal-led world order... seems to be unraveling in many directions."