Global Practices

Even Down is Still Up in Latin America

A thorough overview of Trust in Latin America, including possible drivers of significant shifts in an established region of Trusters.



In advance of presenting the Global Trust Barometer in Brazil last year, I joked with some of my U.S. colleagues that I would be sharing our findings in what seemed to be the ‘most optimistic place on earth’ or, at the very least, the most ‘trusting.’ Brazil’s trust scores topped the charts in our 2011 survey and had made some of the steepest trust climbs of any country surveyed. Today, the trust scores of Brazil have fallen the furthest. Oh, what a difference a year makes…

At first glance of the 2012 Trust Barometer, one can’t help but be struck by the dramatic decline of trust in Brazil, representing not only the largest drop in the region, but according to the Global Trust Index, the largest of any country we surveyed.

When looking beyond the numbers, however, we see that Brazil’s massive trust decline actually had far more to do with last year, than with this one. You see, the 2011 Trust Barometer survey was conducted during a particularly jubilant time for the country, following a series of announcements that can only be referred to as a global trifecta: the awarding of both the Olympics and the World Cup coming to Brazil, as well as the election of a new president. The environment then was nothing short of euphoria when Brazil’s trust in business, government and media increased significantly.

What we now see in our 2012 survey–as budgets were cut, inflation rose and corruption ran rampant in the Brazilian government–is the return of numbers to the country’s historical normal.

Coming off a year in which the country recorded its highest growth in a quarter century, the country is now facing rising inflation. Yet despite Brazil’s notable decline in trust, only in Latin America could such a dramatic decrease still leave the region among the countries with the highest levels of trust in business.

Investment in the region, economic growth, better employment prospects, the rise of the working class are all clear indicators that business is the region’s driving force. Although down slightly from last year, business is still seen as taking a leading role in the region’s time on the global stage. Mexico, for example, is virtually tied with Indonesia for having the highest levels of trust in our global survey.

And like the euphoric effects of positive news on Brazil’s trust numbers in last year’s survey, this year we see that the reverse is also true. As a result, and like the majority of the countries we surveyed, trust in government in Latin America fell, most dramatically in Brazil, but also in Mexico and Argentina.

The lead of a Reuters’ article written last fall on Brazil perhaps says it best: “It lacks the fervor of the Arab Spring, but the resignation of six ministers from Brazil’s government, the approval of transparency laws and the emergence of an angry middle class show that Latin America’s giant is stumbling toward cleaner government.” And that is precisely what happened to the trust in government scores in the region: they stumbled.

Scandal also made its way into the sacred world of NGOs in Brazil, The country’s president had to implement a 30-day suspension of government payments to NGOs, some of which were involved in several scandals as recipients of public funds subsequently distributed as kickbacks.

Elsewhere in the region, though–in Argentina and Mexico–trust in NGOs held steady. In fact, Mexico has the unique distinction of being a close second only to China in terms of trust in NGOs. Few amongst us could have predicted those two top spots just a few years ago, clearly a result of associating NGOs with the betterment of people’s live and the advancement of society.

Media is the only institution to see trust increase globally over the past year, which we believe is due to the changing view of media and the perception that media is doing an excellent job in adding transparency to the financial crisis and government corruption.

Despite the drops in Brazil and Argentina of trust in media, it’s worth noting that media is far more trusted in the Latin American countries we surveyed than in many other parts of the world. In fact, even with the decrease, the region is still in the upper third of countries most trusting of media and is the most trusting of traditional and online sources than any other region we surveyed.

Media is likely also credited with elevating the story of the region and helping to shine the spotlight on Brazil around the world.

Evident in the survey results are the changes–and challenges–that a growing economy presents in that global spotlight. The sense of optimism in the region is as palpable as the signs of transformation. Latin America, and Brazil in particular, is at a moment in time of which it has never witnessed. As a result, both government and businesses are trying to write the ‘rulebook’ as they go along–sometimes with better success than at others. I suppose the only question left is what will next year’s results look like?

Gail Becker is the chair of Latin America, Canada & Western Region U.S. at Edelman.

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