Trust Craters In the United States — But Soars in China

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Edelman’s Trust Barometer is out, and it paints a rather dismal picture for everyone but business. Is that an opportunity?


Edelman’s annual “Trust Barometer” comes out today, and this year the normally staid report feels more like a fun house mirror. The Trust Barometer has been tracking global sentiment around four interrelated sectors — Business, Government, NGOs, and Media — for more than a decade. But never in its history have the numbers fluctuated as widely as they did in 2017, and overall, the report paints a rather unflattering portrait — in particular for the United States.

Let’s dig in. Here are the conclusions I found most startling:

  • The US and China are swapping places. Average global trust levels stayed pretty much the same year to year, but the real story is buried in the averages: Trust in the US went down a whopping 9 points, while trust inside China rose 7 points — one of many indications that China is on the rise globally, which the US is nosediving. Asked which institution they most trusted, the Chinese chose “government.” The US? Not so much. Believe it or not, in the US, NGOs came out in first.
  • Trust cratered in the “Informed Public” — the most educated and wealthy survey respondents. This was driven almost entirely by an unprecedented 23-point drop in US respondents. In short, US influencers have thrown their hands up and lost confidence in their institutions.
  • Platform companies like Facebook and Google lost significant trust in 2017. Led by an overwhelming concern around fake news, trust in “Media” dropped to last place (putting Media below Government or Business), but a closer look shows that the entire drop is driven by a lack of faith in technology platform companies, which are included in the Media category. Trust in “journalism” actually increased, but trust in “platforms” decreased, as you can see below. Trust in “Experts” also increased, which seems counterintuitive, but feels like a promising development.
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