2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, Part 1: Bad News for Almost Everyone

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer is Edelman’s 18th annual online survey of trust in 28 markets around the world. Here is a summary of this year’s most important points, most of which indicate an overall loss of trust in institutions worldwide. In Part 2, “Your To-do List for Rebuilding Trust,” we summarize results and recommendations on how to regain trust.

If you live in the U.S., and you haven’t had a chance to peruse the results of the Edelman 2018 Trust Barometer, then here’s the most important takeaway:

The U.S. saw the steepest year-to-year trust decline ever. No one in the U.S. trusts much of anything anymore, not even NGOs. (See the chart above.)

In fact, in the U.S., trust in NGOs declined by 22 points among informed publics (college educated, upper income). Which is only slightly better than the decline in trust in government, which fell by 30 points. (No surprise there, at least among this particular informed public.)

The media is the least trusted institution worldwide

Only 42% of Americans trust the media. Worldwide, 66% think that the media is more concerned with attracting audiences than reporting, and 65% think that media outlets sacrifice accuracy to be first to break a story. In fact, 63% don’t know how to tell journalism from rumor or fake news.

In countries with state-controlled media, trust in both media and government is significantly higher. In fact China, in contrast to most everywhere else, has very high—and increasing—levels of trust across all institutions.

Among democratic countries, India, the Netherlands, and Canada have the highest levels of trust in the media.

But take note, PR and media relations folks, because, as it turns out, if you are marketing to Hillary voters, then 61% of them do in fact trust the media. If you’re marketing to everyone else, then put your news somewhere else, since only 27% of them trust the media.

Also, trust in traditional and online-only media has increased, whereas trust in search engines and social media platforms has decreased.

Where the trust is

While trust has generally fallen, some areas and occupations are more trusted than others. Trust in technical and academic experts, and financial industry analysts increased. So perhaps the March for Science and general push-back against BS is having an impact.

Among industry sectors, technology, education, and professional services are the most trusted. And the most trusted countries of origin for businesses are Canada, Switzerland, and Sweden.

Trust in journalism increases

One of the brightest spots in the trust landscape concerns journalism. Trust in journalists went up 12 points. People generally trust journalists significantly more than search, news apps, and social media. In fact, journalism is trusted more than social platforms in 21 countries.(The Edelman researchers differentiated between “media” and “platforms,” e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Google.)

Surprise! CEOs become more trusted

A big surprise, in an era of scandals on the part of CEOs, is that credibility of CEOs increased by 7 points. The caveat is that expectations are pretty low. 60% believe that CEOs are driven more by greed than a desire to make a positive difference in the world. Imagine how wonderful it would be, and how great the coverage would be, if your CEO proved otherwise.

For corporate communicators there are clear warnings here: People expect companies and their CEOs to be trustworthy even more than they expect them to produce high quality products and services. And a majority of people, 56%, believe that companies that only think about themselves and their profits are bound to fail.

Where the trust isn’t

Good luck if you’re in food and beverage, automotive, or consumer packaged goods: not only are you least trusted, trust in your sector declined most sharply. And if your company is based in Mexico, India, or Brazil, then you are the least trusted.

If you think you can fall back on the old “people trust people like themselves” adage—don’t count on it. Trust in “a person like yourself” fell 6% points, to an all-time low.

The good news

Before you chuck it all and sign up for the next mission to Mars, there is some good news. The researchers at Edelman threw in some additional questions and analysis that offer guidance on how our distrust situation might be remedied. Turns out that the countries that saw the most trust gains invested in jobs, ensured a competitive workforce, and prioritized innovation, quality of life, and consumer safety. (Imagine that.)

In Part 2 of our coverage, “Your To-do List for Rebuilding Trust,” we review specific efforts revealed by the Edelman research that institutions can make to improve trust.


About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.