Through the Looking Glass

We have just released the findings of additional Edelman Trust Barometer research we did after the presidential election. We wanted to be sure that the numbers in the U.S. did not move significantly from our earlier global poll, conducted in late October and early November. But in fact, Americans’ trust levels in the four institutions did change, with business and NGOs up a bit and media and government down.

There are a few stunning results that should be taken very seriously by all of us in the communications world. We now reside in a house divided, with huge differences in views between those who voted for President Trump and for Hillary Clinton.

First, post-election results among voters show trust in media in the U.S. is tied with the lowest it has ever been when comparing to the general population, standing at 35 percent, down from 40 percent before the election. The drop is largely attributable to Trump voters, who have only 15 percent trust in media, compared to 51 percent held by Clinton voters. Over half of Trump voters (54 percent) want more regulation of media, compared to 34 percent of Clinton voters.

Second and not unexpected, only 26 percent of Trump voters trust government, compared to 46 percent of Clinton voters (their trust in government dropped 11 points from the October poll). The gap between trust in business and government for the Trump voter is 34 points, for the Clinton voter it is one point. Trump voters have substantially less trust in government regulators and agencies than Clinton voters (40 percent versus 58 percent). The Clinton voter has a much greater appetite for increased regulation, especially of financial services, than the Trump voter (63 percent versus 45 percent).

Third, business is the most trusted institution by Trump voters at 60 percent, well above any other institution (closest is NGOs at 47 percent). For the Clinton voter, business is the least-trusted institution at 45 percent, 15 points below NGOs.

You will recall that our global study delved into how well people believe the system is working for them; specifically, whether the system is fair, whether there is hope for a better future for your family, whether you have confidence in leaders, and your desire for change. Trump voters were somewhat more convinced that the system is failing. But the big news is that the Trump voter is between two and three times more afraid of globalization (44 percent versus 19 percent) and immigration (46 percent versus 17 percent). There also is a large gap between Trump and Clinton voters on the erosion of social values (35 percent versus 21 percent).

Business has much to be concerned about, especially related to globalization and automation. Both Clinton and Trump voters want more done to protect jobs from foreign competitors (62 percent and 87 percent respectively). Trump voters are twice as convinced that the U.S. should get out of or renegotiate trade agreements (80 percent versus 42 percent).

So Alice is peering through the Looking Glass; what has been up is down. What remains the same is the need for business to act on behalf of shareholders—but also in the interests of society. We must educate and listen, to act with the people instead of acting for them. That means CEOs standing up – as Starbucks’* Howard Schultz, GE’s* Jeff Immelt and Microsoft’s* Satya Nadella did this past week – to defend the core elements of their business strategy, from free trade to immigration of top-class talent to the ability to innovate.

Business is the most trusted institution for Trump voters. Companies should use this position to make a strong argument for presently unpopular issues such as globalization and free trade. There should be pro-consumer facts on affordability and quality. There must also be an honest assessment of the ten-year outlook for automation, with specific commitments on job training and financial support for those who will be displaced. Education and transparency will win the day, to be an active participant in the policy debate instead of reacting to executive orders from Washington.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.

*Edelman client