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IN WHOM DO WE TRUST

Trust in government now exceeds the public’s faith in business

REUTERS/Leah Millis
But scientists are trusted even more.
  • Jenny Anderson
By Jenny Anderson

Senior reporter, Editor of How to be Human

Trust in government officials is soaring, and that is not a typo.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, 13,200 respondents in 11 countries say they now trust government more than business, the media, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a switch from the past two years, when business was the most trusted institution,  according to a survey conducted by Edelman, a public relations firm.

That government would gain ground is not surprising. Amid the twin crises of a health pandemic and a massive economic rout, people are worried about money, healthcare, and jobs—things that governments are best placed to put up the resources to address en masse (see the $3 trillion the US government is borrowing).

 

Edelman has been running a trust survey for more than 20 years. Its recent survey shows how quickly people’s perceptions change. Edelman’s January report, which polled more than 34,000 people in 28 countries, found that the majority of people surveyed thought government was rigged against them: 57% of the general population said government serves the interest of only the few, while a mere 30% said government served the interests of everyone.

The change in sentiment is stark, but before governments start celebrating too much, they might take note that people still trust scientists and people in their community way more.

Trust in institutions is finicky, as Edelman’s survey shows: Every year, it fluctuates. Business lost trust after the financial crisis and then regained it as the labor market tightened and as companies had to compete for talent, and thus listen to employees more.

In the most recent survey, government gained the most trust in six of the 11 markets surveyed, including the UK (up 24 points), Canada (20 points), Germany (19 points), and South Korea (16 points). In the US it gained only six points.

Respondents say they want government to lead in all areas of the pandemic response, including:

  • ending the pandemic (73%)
  • helping people cope with the pandemic (72%)
  • informing the public (72%)
  • addressing the economic consequences (86%)
  • and being an agent of normalcy (79%)

But they also don’t think government is doing a particularly good job in key areas. Only 42% of respondents said the government had done a good job ensuring medical supplies and good treatment were available, while 49% said business has implemented safety procedures to protect workers and customers.

In the US, the government gained less trust than governments in many other large economies—only 6 percentage points compared to 24 in the UK or 19 in Germany. Respondents also rated its performance lower than many others, but not as low as Japan’s.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that they are terrified about losing their jobs. In January, before the coronavirus exploded into a pandemic, 80% of employees said they feared losing their job, primarily due to automation, globalization, or economic downturn. Now, 56% say they are concerned about losing their jobs—and not being able to find a new one for a long time—due to the pandemic alone.

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