In 2012, organizations have the challenge of communicating a positive value proposition during a time of unrelenting pessimism and record disillusionment in America. The decline of trust in the Barometer is validated by other respected public opinion polls taken in the past year: in October, the NBC/Wall Street Journal “right track/wrong track” poll reached a 74 percent wrong track number, the highest point in the history of the poll (since 1995). The latest surveys from Gallup, Reuters, CBS and AP all showed wrong track numbers of 61 percent or higher.
Everyone talks about the negative impacts of America’s economic climate, but a deeper dive into the numbers show the real human story:
- The 2008 recession has been characterized by a particularly slow jobs recovery. We are now in the 35th consecutive month of +8 percent unemployment.
- It was recently announced that Americans under the poverty line was at a 50-year high, with record poverty levels for children.
- The Misery Index, which adds unemployment and inflation, is at a 28 year high.
- There is significant anxiety about the federal debt, which has risen over 41 percent since January 2009.
- Amidst this economic backdrop, real wages have been stagnant for nearly a generation, home values have plummeted and health insurance premiums have skyrocketed.
As the Barometer results demonstrate, these economic and political factors have led to a distrust of nearly anything that is big. Core institutions that have an impact on the economy–from big business to banks to labor unions–have seen near-record low support in surveys from organizations such as Gallup and Pew. An October New York Times survey recorded a 9 percent approval rate for Congress–an all-time low. It is not a coincidence that as business stories have been increasingly painted through a partisan lens following the financial crisis, trust in business and politics has dropped in parallel. It is notable that technology–an industry associated more with entrepreneurs and scientists in Silicon Valley and Seattle, and less so with executives and politicians in New York and Washington–is far and away the most trusted business sector.
The largest U.S. news story of 2012 will be the presidential election. With the rise of Super PACs, which can receive unlimited donations, it will be the most expensive, negative and partisan general election campaign in American history. Disillusionment and lack of trust can only be expected to increase. In this environment, the avoidance of partisanship is a critical strategic interest to organizations.
Meanwhile, the world’s challenges only continue to increase. As many companies in the technology industry have shown, organizations that demonstrate a path to economic growth while providing solutions have the opportunity to lead.
Steve Schmidt is vice chairman of Public Affairs at Edelman.