Who do you trust?

Trust has declined across all Australian institutions according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Trust levels in business have fallen by 5%, NGOs 4%, Government 9% and the media 8%. Business and NGOs are still in overall positive territory although government is on the borderline with a 52% trust rating. The media is in negative territory with only 43% trusting it.

There are big differences in generational trust attitudes. With government 60% of Millennials don’t trust it- the score having fallen 5% in a year. Generation X (born in the mid-1960s) trust levels of government have fallen 16% and Boomers 4%.

A clear majority of Millennials distrust business and their trust level has fallen 5% in a year while Generation Z (born very late 1990s and early 2000s) has dropped 2% while Generation X trust levels have fallen 9%. Boomers trust business 1% more than they did a year ago but their overall trust ranking is only 59%.

Boomers trust level of the media has only dropped 2 percentage points – but that takes it from 40% to 38%. As this generation may be the last cohort using mainstream media that’s bad news for the media. Gen Z trust level is 35% having dropped 16 points, Millennial’s down 8% to 50% and Generation X down 10% to 45%.

All cohorts have majority trust in NGOs but Gen X trust in NGOs has dropped 14%.

The Trust Barometer also looked at the extent to which sectors were seen as divisive by measuring whether they were a divisive force in society or a unifying force.

The media were in terrible condition with 55% thinking they were a divisive force and only 26% a unifying force. Government was seen as divisive by 52% and unifying by 30%. Business and NGOs were both in positive territory with a positive difference between being a unifying versus a dividing force – 7% for business 9% for NGO.

All the media is in trust trouble. Only 48% (down 9 %) trust traditional media, search engines are trusted by 47% (down 10%), owned media 33% (down 1%) and social media 24% (down 7%).

The least trusting countries for traditional media are the US, Japan and Australia. For search engines they are Russia, Japan, South Korea and the US. France, Germany and Canada are the least trusting countries when it comes to social media.

When asked what evidence you are more likely to believe 55% say my tendency is to distrust until I see evidence that something is trustworthy.

65% thought that journalists and reporters were purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations; 61% thought that about business leaders, and 61% (up 3%) thought it about ‘my country’s leaders’

Personal trust in journalists, government leaders and CEOs was down with the biggest drop for journalists and government leaders.

The most trusted were people in my own local community, national health authorities, scientists and co-workers.

In another finding 61% of people think that people in Australia lack the ability to have constructive and civil debates about issues they disagree on. It’s not too hard to discern from the other report findings who they think is to blame for that.

When it comes to solving society’s problems no institution gets positive support although business and NGOs are on the border line with 49% saying they could co-ordinate cross-institutional efforts to solve societal problems.

If you had some old-fashioned view that government has some role in that, only 43% of the sample believed they could while the figure for media was even worse at 38%.

As for successfully executing plans and strategies that yield results that 59% think business can, 51% NGOs, 45% media and 43% government.

So what do we worry about? 80% worry about job loss, 66% hackers and cyber attacks, 62% climate change, 58% losing my freedoms as a citizen (COVID restrictions and Clive Palmer may have had something to do with this) and 49% experiencing prejudice or racism.

And speaking of COVID healthcare is the most trusted industry followed by education, food and beverage, retail, transportation, manufacturing, professional services and technology.

Social media is the most distrusted, and has fallen further in the past year, and financial services are still pretty unpopular.

Social media, telecommunications and manufacturing have had the biggest trust drops while education, food and beverage and technology have all improved a bit.

While business has generally got good ratings it could be doing more for society according to the respondents.  Asked if business should do more, not less, on societal issues there was widespread feeling that they needed to do more.  The survey asked the question in terms of a continuum between business not doing too much and it overstepping the mark in what it was saying. The gap between those thought to be not doing enough and overstepping the mark is 35% for workforce reskilling, 34% for climate change, 33% for economic inequality, 29% for providing trustworthy information, 24% providing health care and 24% on systemic injustice.

Scott Morrison may be spruiking superior economic management and better times ahead but when asked whether their families would be better off in five years’ time only 41% of Australians (compared with a global response of 51%) thought they would be.

Indeed, Australia was one of nine countries at all-time lows on this measure with (in order of declining levels of optimism) Singapore, Ireland, Australia, the US, South Korea, Spain, Canada, Russia, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and France.

Almost all respondents in almost all countries thought they would be worse off than when asked last year but there were some optimists looking forward to something better – Indonesia, UAE, South Korea, Spain, Russia (hasn’t history overtaken that finding) and the UK.

And a bit of capital and some income are good indicators of how much you trust the society which has made it possible. In Australia in 2021 high income earners hit a new high in levels of trust – jumping 22% – as their assets appreciated during lockdown. Sadly it dropped by 10% in 2022. In contrast the bottom 25% of income earners had lower levels of trust although they increased in 2021 (a bit of a we’re all in this together perhaps) but it dropped again in 2022 as the pandemic when on and on.

And there is a major irony in any Edelman Trust Barometer. Edelman is one of the world’s biggest PR companies and led the charge calling for PR companies to do their bit on climate change. Great publicity for a while until it was realised fossil fuel companies were a significant part of their client base.