Picture: 123RF/GILC
Picture: 123RF/GILC

London — Trust in governments, business leaders and media is crumbling amid a perceived mishandling by leaders of the coronavirus pandemic and a widespread feeling among citizens that they are being misled, a global survey has found.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, which for two decades has polled thousands of people on their trust in core institutions, found 57% of people believe government leaders, business heads and journalists are spreading falsehoods or exaggerations.

Breaking down responses according to a person’s media habits and voting patterns, the survey found a greater hesitancy on vaccines among those who rely mostly on social media, and underlined the polarisation of politics in the US.

“The violent storming of the US Capitol last week, and that only one-third of people are willing to get a Covid vaccine, crystallises the dangers of misinformation,” said Richard Edelman, whose Edelman communications group produces the survey.

The figure cited by Edelman refers to an average of only 33% of respondents in 27 countries covered by the survey said they would take the vaccine as soon as possible. A further 31% said they would take it within a year.

The survey was conducted between October 19 and November 18 2020 with more than 33,000 respondents, with a supplement carried out in December after the US presidential election.

Governments less trusted

Governments, which in a previous survey conducted early in the pandemic saw a bounce in their trust ratings from publics who wanted them to prioritise saving lives over the economy, saw sharp losses in trust levels as the year progressed.

As a whole, confidence in the institution of government fell from an all-time high of 65% last May to 53% by the end of 2020. Losses were particularly acute in South Korea, Britain and China.

Trust in media, which has been ebbing in the survey since 2019, fell further. Confidence in traditional media outlets dropped eight points to 53%, though they still attracted more trust than social media, which fell five points to 35%.

Strong national majorities across the board considered media was doing a poor job at being objective and non-partisan, with Japan in Asia, Italy in Europe, and Argentina in South America all registering particularly high scores of mistrust.

In the US, levels of trust diverged according to political affiliation: while 63% of Joe Biden voters trusted journalists, that figure fell to 21% for voters of Donald Trump, who has long denigrated mainstream media as “fake news”.

Despite business leaders being suspected by a majority of engaging in falsehoods and exaggerations, they nonetheless came out of the survey with better overall trust levels than either governments or the media.

Nine in 10 respondents said they wanted CEOs to speak out on the pandemic’s impact, labour and societal issues, and more than two-thirds expect them to step in when the government does not fix problems.


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