Government and Media Fuel a Vicious Cycle of Distrust

January 18, 2022 — NEW YORK — The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that business holds onto its position as the most trusted institution, with even greater expectations due to government’s failure to lead during the pandemic. By an average of five-to-one margin, respondents in the 28 countries surveyed want business to play a larger role on climate change, economic inequality, workforce reskilling and addressing racial injustice. All stakeholders want business to fill the void, with nearly 60 percent of consumers buying brands based on their values and beliefs, almost 6 in 10 employees choose a workplace based on shared values and expect their CEO to take a stand on societal issues, and 64 percent of investors looking to back businesses aligned with their values. 

“Business must now be the stabilizing force delivering tangible action and results on society’s most critical issues,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “Societal leadership is now a core function of business.”   

Business further distanced itself from government, outscoring it by 53 points on competence and 26 points on ethics. More than 8 in 10 respondents want CEOs to be the face of change, leading on policy, not on politics. 

There is a risk for business in being so involved in societal issues. For the first time, Democrats (55 percent) are more trusting of business than Republicans (48 percent), who suffered a massive 12-point drop in trust. More than half of respondents (52 percent) say capitalism does more harm than good in its current form and there is now a record 15-point trust gap between high-income (Trust Index of 62) and low-income individuals (Trust Index of 47).  

This year’s report reveals a vicious cycle of distrust fueled by government and media. Globally, a majority of people believe they are being lied to by journalists (67 percent, up 8 points) and government leaders (66 percent, up 9 points), and nearly one out of every two respondents view government (48 percent) and media (46 percent) as divisive forces in society. 

“This vicious cycle of distrust threatens societal stability,” said Edelman. “It’s a death grip where media is chasing clicks and government is chasing votes, both feeding a cycle of disinformation and division and exploiting it for commercial and political gain.”

Government was the most trusted institution in the May 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer: Spring Update. It was expected to lead during the height of the pandemic but has since suffered a dramatic fall, dropping 13 points, from 65 percent to 52 percent. There’s been a collapse of trust in developed democracies; many failed to reach a score of 60 on this year’s Trust Index, including Australia (53), France (50), Germany (46), UK (44) and the U.S. (43), which has dropped 10 points since 2017. Contrast that to the trust jumps in non-democratic countries—China (83) and the UAE (76), which saw increases of 11 and 9 points respectively. The disparity is highlighted by the record 40-point gap between China and the U.S. The explanation: respondents in every developed country studied believe they will be worse off financially in five years and 85 percent fear they will lose their jobs to forces including automation.

Distrust has become the default, with most respondents (59 percent) saying they tend to distrust until seeing evidence that something is trustworthy, and 64 percent believing people in their country lack the ability to have constructive and civil debates.

“Restoring trust is going to require business to continue its societal role,” said Dave Samson, vice chairman of Corporate Affairs. “But even more, it will require all institutions to demonstrate tangible progress and restore belief in society’s ability to build a better future for all, focus on long-term thinking over short-term benefits and provide trustworthy, fact-based information.”

Other key findings from the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer include:

  • Over the last decade, trust in all news sources has dropped, except for owned media (43 percent), which rose one point. Social media (37 percent) experienced the sharpest decline at eight points followed by traditional media (57 percent) at five points and search engines (59 percent) at three points. Concern over fake news being used as a weapon has risen to an all-time high of 76 percent. The most believable source of information is communications from ‘My Employer’ (65 percent).
  • Government officials (42 percent) and journalists (46 percent) are again the least trusted societal leaders, while ‘My Coworkers’ (74 percent) and scientists (75 percent) are most trusted. 
  • The political chasm in the U.S. shows every sign of widening, with trust overall among Democrats (Trust Index of 55) 20 points higher than Republicans (Trust Index of 35). The widest gaps are found in trust in media (a 31-point divide, with Democrats at 55 percent versus Republicans at 24 percent) and government (24 points, with Democrats at 53 percent versus Republicans at 29 percent). 
  • Technology (74 percent) was the most trusted sector, followed by education (69 percent) and healthcare (69 percent). Social media (44 percent) continued its decline with a 2-point slide, solidifying its spot as the least trusted sector.
  • Germany (65 percent) and Canada (65 percent) remained the most trusted country brands, followed by Japan (59 percent) and the UK (58 percent). India (36 percent) and China (34 percent) remain the least trusted.