By Marcus Leach
Blame for the financial and political chaos of 2011 landed at the doorstep of government, as trust in that institution fell a record nine points to 43 percent globally, according to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer.
In seventeen of the 25 countries surveyed, government is now trusted by less than half to do what is right. In twelve, it trails business, media, and non-governmental organizations as the least trusted institution. France, Spain, Brazil, China, Russia, and Japan, as well as six other countries, saw government trust drop by more than ten points.
Government officials are now the least credible spokespeople, with only 29 percent considering them credible. Nearly half of the general population␣the first time the Barometer looked at this broader group␣say they do not trust government leaders to tell the truth.
"Business is now better placed than government to lead the way out of the trust crisis," said Richard Edelman, President and CEO, Edelman. "But the balance must change so that business is seen both as a force for good and an engine for profit."
Although business experienced fewer and generally less severe declines in trust, it has its own hurdles to clear. Trust in business fell globally from 56 percent to 53 percent, with countries like France and Germany, in the heart of the Eurozone economic crisis, experiencing double-digit decreases. Lack of confidence in business spread to South Korea, where trust dropped 15 points. China was the only country to see a significant increase in trust in business, rising from 61 to 71 percent.
CEO credibility declined 12 points to 38 percent, its biggest drop in nine years. In South Korea and Japan, it dropped by 34 and 43 points, respectively.
In the midst of this systemic decline in trust, 'a person like me' has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople, with the biggest increase in credibility since 2004, and now trails only academics and technical experts.
Regular employees jumped from least credible spokesperson to tied for fourth on the list, with a 16-point record rise. Social-networking, micro-blogging, and content- sharing sites witnessed the most dramatic percentage increase as trusted sources of information about a company, rising by 88, 86, and 75 percent, respectively.
"This is further evidence of the dispersion of authority," said Mr Edelman. "Smart businesses will talk to employees first, because citizens now trust one another more than they do established institutions."
The 2012 Trust Barometer reveals that the factors responsible for shaping current trust levels are less important than those that will build future trust. Consistent financial returns, innovative products and highly regarded senior leadership are the primary factors on which current trust levels lie. However, listening to customer feedback and putting customers ahead of profits are far more vital to building future trust.
"Our analysis shows that the operational factors driving present trust in business aren't enough to expand trust in the future," said Neal Flieger, chair, Strategy One, Edelman's research firm. "The path forward requires more of a focus on societal and employee-facing issues."
Although business is substantially more trusted than government, 49 percent of global respondents believe government does not regulate business enough. Nearly one-third want government to protect them from irresponsible business practices and one-quarter want regulation that will ensure responsible corporate behaviour. "The interventions people are asking government to take are changes business can step up and implement on its own," said Mr Edelman.
Once again, banks and financial services declined in trust, and were the two least trusted sectors with France, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea recording the most severe drops. Technology remained the most trusted sector globally.
Media, the one institution to see an increase, saw its global trust level rise above 50 percent. It experienced significant regional upticks in India (20 points), the U.S. (18 points), the UK (15 points) and Italy (12 points).
"As the media landscape dimensionalizes and delivers a wider range of options, it is becoming more trusted," said Alan VanderMolen, President and CEO, Global Practices and Diversified Insights Business. "The media also did an exceptional job this past year of covering the financial problems throughout the EU."
In Japan, site of last year's earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster, trust fell severely in three of the four institutions including government (down 26 points), media (12 points), and NGOs (21 points) . That loss of trust extended to five industry sectors, including energy (down 46 points), media (21 points), banks (20 points) and financial services (17 points).
"The fragility of trust was never more evident than this past year in Japan, where the government's lack of leadership and the local utility's poor transparency revealed huge shortcomings in the command-and-control approach to communications," said Mr. Edelman.
Join us on