Only Half of Americans Trust Business, But Voices of Authority Re-Establish Credibility

February 2, 2018

Only 48% of the general public in the US trusts business as an institution, according to the latest annual Edelman Trust Barometer [pdf], but that’s actually not a terrible result in light of distrust in other institutions. In fact, just 42% trust the media, and a paltry 1 in 3 trust the government.

Even NGOs aren’t spared the skepticism: just 49% of Americans surveyed trust them (top-4 box score on a 9-point scale).

Trust in each of these institutions has dropped quite significantly from 2017, none more so than the government. (Coincidentally, the US – among country “brands” – took the biggest tumble on a global basis.)

The media had the most modest decline in trust (-5 points) in the US, but even that was enough to count as the joint-largest decline among the 28 countries included in the survey.

Trust in the media largely cleaves along political lines, per the report. Whereas just 27% of Trump voters in the US trust this institution, that figure soars to 61% among Clinton voters. Gallup observed a similar dynamic in survey data released last year, theorizing that Democrats are seeing the media as a watchdog on the current administration.

How Can Businesses Build Trust?

The Edelman study’s results suggest that the culprit in media’s declining trust is social media – and search. Indeed, globally, trust in platforms (search engines and social media platforms) as sources for general news and information has declined, while trust in traditional and online-only media has actually climbed and is now well ahead.

That resolves a seeming contradiction: stagnating trust in media globally (declining in the US), alongside increasing trust in journalism.

A similar pattern can be observed with business, too. Accompanying the rising trust in journalists (as opposed to media platforms), there appears to have been a rebound in credibility for so-called authority figures like CEOs and boards of directors. This is again occurring against a backdrop of stagnating trust in business on a global scale. It seems that in business as in media, the institution is being held to a higher standard than the people within it.

When asked how credible information from various spokespeople would be when forming an opinion of a company, the largest share of respondents globally this year pointed to technical experts (63%) and academic experts (61%).

Both of those showed an increase in credibility from last year, as did financial industry analysts (up 4 points to 50%), successful entrepreneurs (+1 point to 50%), CEOs (+7 points to 44%), boards of directors (+6 points to 44%), and journalists (+12 points to 39).

The only two spokespeople to see a decline in trust? “A person like yourself” (-6 points to 54%) and employees (-1 point to 47%).

A separate survey released last year had found these exact people – friends and family, along with employees – to have been deemed the most credible spokespeople.

It may be that with fake news proliferating, people are less likely to trust their peers. In fact, 7 in 10 globally worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon, and 63% feel that the average person does not know how to tell good journalism from rumor or falsehoods.

So for brands, it seems that getting an endorsement from an expert or analyst will carry a bit more heft this year…

The full Edelman study be accessed here [pdf].

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of more than 32,000 people across 28 countries, including 1,150 each in the US and China.


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