If you care what people think, and most politicians do, this is a miserable time to be pursuing a career in politics. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer makes clear that trust in government as an institution is declining in many countries across the globe.

Over the last year, trust in government has fallen in 17 of the 27 countries we tracked. More than half the major economies of the world actively distrust government, while less than a third of all countries actively trust government.

Government trust is declining on all metrics: leadership competence; understanding citizen fears and concerns; visionary thinking; decision-making based on facts not politics; ability to execute; dissemination of factual information; global coordination; long-term thinking and planning; and accountability. 

Today, 66 percent of global respondents believe their country’s governments are purposely trying to mislead people, while government leaders remain the least trusted among the twelve categories of societal leaders we tested. To compound this picture, only 36 percent of respondents believe government is a unifying force in society.

But this is not the case across the board. We now see a clear divergence in trust between democratic countries and those with one-party rule, as well as between developing and developed economies. 

Across the span of all markets surveyed, the countries with the most trust in government are China (the biggest trust winner in this year’s survey), the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, Singapore and Thailand. Those with the least trust in government are Argentina (bottom of the rankings this year), South Africa, Colombia, Spain, Nigeria, Brazil and Japan. 

At the same time, the developed democratic governments of Germany, South Korea and Italy have moved into the distrust category since last year — with the German government being the single largest trust loser of the year, declining 12 points over 12 months.  The United States and United Kingdom, meanwhile, have done nothing to improve their trust standing and will need to take more proactive measures if their current administrations want to be more confident about surviving the next election cycle. 

Meanwhile, from an economic perspective, it is overwhelmingly clear that people in developed democracies believe they will be fundamentally worse off in five years’ time compared with those in developing markets. Of those, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada and the U.S. achieved all-time lows on this measure, while many less developed countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia continued to poll high.

As seen through the lens of government, a key question arises from the survey: What is driving the continuing rise in trust levels in China and similar nations? 

In the case of China, two predominant and ongoing events of the last year have contributed significantly to a greater sense of confidence among the Chinese populace: the pandemic and rising tensions with the U.S. The latter of which has boosted China’s sense of nationalism, contributing further to a rising sense of pride in the country’s overall standing in the world. With the pandemic, Chinese citizens have witnessed their government acting decisively and successfully to prevent the spread of the virus (this survey was taken prior to the Omicron outbreak), boosting confidence and trust in their leaders.

The success China has had in quickly constraining Covid-19 outbreaks could not be replicated in countries like Australia, the UK and – least of all – the U.S., where protests against lockdowns and vaccine mandates have curtailed government action. Moreover, in times of turmoil that require ‘strong’ leadership, governments that can act without the need for extensive consultation processes are trusted to take charge of their agendas and manage crises.

As ever, our annual Trust Barometer provides a momentary snapshot of the state of trust in the world. Generalizations are risky because culture and circumstance determine so much. Nonetheless, if building trust were a competition, then definitive, strong, determined, and decisive leadership appears to be the winning formula for governments. At the same time, the data also makes clear that – at least for the moment – so-called Western-style democracies have lost much of the moral high ground on the international stage.

Stephen Kehoe is President & CEO of APAC.