Who and what do we trust and distrust?

Two new surveys provide perspectives on who we trust, who we distrust and what communication channels we trust.

Trust in State governments and the Federal Government has declined in the past year according to a survey by the consultancy SenateSHJ as part of their Togetherness Index which looks at what communication elements contribute to social cohesion within the community.

The Roy Morgan Research company has also carried out a major analysis of Trust and Distrust in Government/Government Services.

The SenateSHJ research shows that trust in state government communications has fallen from 52% to 45% in the past year. Trust in what the Federal Government says has fallen further from 54% to 42%.

That translates into not taking too much notice of what the governments say. Just a third of people say Federal government communications is influential on their behaviour and only about 40% give this communication much thought – suggesting a lot of focus group research and backroom crafting of slogans is not reaping much return.

Business might be working hard at polishing their ESG credentials and institutional investors are pushing them to do more. But it’s not having much impact. In the past year trust in what business leaders say has fallen from 33% to 29% and only about a quarter of people think about messages communicated by large business.

This may seem like a corporate communications failure, but it has to be put in the perspective of what impact it has on policies. For instance, there are probably fewer than a quarter of people who trust what banks say – let alone what they do – but that hasn’t stopped Josh Frydenberg progressively dismantling the protections instituted after the Hayne Royal Commission into banks.

Those of us fearful of the impact of social media will be saddened by the fact that the percentage of people who trust (excluding stuff posted by family and friends) what they see on social media has gone up. However, not to worry, it has risen by only two percent and only about a quarter believe messages communicated through social media have been influential.

The Roy Morgan Research shows that the most distrusted organisations in Australia are (in order from the most distrusted) are: The Federal Government (head and shoulders above the rest), Centrelink, the Liberal Party, Politicians, State Governments, Local Governments, the Greens and the ALP.

The health system is the most trusted followed by ambulances. The ABC makes it into the list at number 13 and the Defence Forces scrape into last place suggesting the glorification of militarism and Anzackery has not been totally successful.

The only two organisations surveyed which have no levels of distrust at all are ambos and the CSIRO.

Turning to the business sector the Coalition war against super isn’t denting superannuation funds’ reputation as they have, along with convenience stores, the highest net trust level followed by retailers and consumer products.

It is probably not surprising that the most distrusted are banks, social media and telecommunications providers.

Trust in the Federal Government had grown at the start of the pandemic but plummeted from the time of the Brittany Higgins scandals.

Currently the ALP is more trusted than the Liberal Party and distrust levels of the Liberal Party are higher than both the ALP and the Greens.

The high levels of distrust of the Federal Government and the Liberal Party (while the same thing in reality the results reflect answers to slightly different questions) don’t augur well for the reception of any promises Morrison makes about new policies (promises) on climate change.

As one respondent to the survey said: “Too much lying. They never apologise or own any mistakes. There is no clear indication they are working for a vision of a better Australia. They get caught up in point scoring with the media and opponents.”

There is a fascinating webinar on the Roy Morgan research which offers some rich, sobering and enlightening information.