Distrust of institutions on the rise in low-income groups

Low-income households around the globe are witnessing a growing distrust of institutions – including government and business – and barley 40 percent people believe their families will be better off in the future, says a survey.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, which for over two decades has polled the attitudes of thousands of people, found that economic pessimism was at its highest in some of the world’s top economies such as the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan.

Moreover, it noted that the societies have been divided by the impacts of the pandemic and inflation. Higher-income households still broadly trust institutions such as government, business, media and NGOs. But alienation is rife among low-income groups.

“This has really shown the mass class divide again,” said Richard Edelman, whose Edelman communications group published the survey of over 32,000 respondents in 28 countries interviewed from Nov 1-28 of last year.

“We saw it in the pandemic because of differential outcomes in terms of health, now we see it in terms of the impact of inflation,” he added. The World Health Organisation and others have noted the higher toll of the pandemic on the poor, while those on low incomes suffer most from costlier basic items.

Some of the key findings are:

  • Personal economic fears such as job loss (89 percent) and inflation (74 percent) are on par with urgent societal fears like climate change (76 percent), nuclear war (72 percent) and food shortages (67 percent).
  • CEOs are expected to use resources to hold divisive forces accountable: 72 percent believe CEOs are obligated to defend facts and expose questionable science being used to justify bad social policy; 71 percent believe CEOs are obligated to pull advertising money out of media platforms that spread misinformation; and 64 percent, on average, say companies can help increase civility and strengthen the social fabric by supporting politicians and media outlets that build consensus and cooperation.
  • Government (51 percent) is now distrusted in 16 of the 28 countries surveyed including the US (42 percent), the UK (37 percent), Japan (33 percent), and Argentina (20 percent). Media (50 percent) is distrusted in 15 of 28 countries including Germany (47 percent), the U.S. (43 percent), Australia (38 percent), and South Korea (27 percent). ‘My employer’ (77 percent) is the most trusted institution and is trusted in every country surveyed aside from South Korea (54 percent).
  • Government leaders (41 percent), journalists (47 percent) and CEOs (48 percent) are the least trusted institutional leaders. Scientists (76 percent), my coworkers (73 percent among employees) and my CEO (64 percent among employees) are most trusted.
  • Technology (75 percent) was once again the most trusted sector trailed by education (71 percent), food and beverage (71 percent) and healthcare (70 percent). Social media (44 percent) remained the least trusted sector.
  • Canada (67 percent) and Germany (63 percent) remained the two most trusted foreign brands, followed by Japan (61 percent) and the UK (59 percent). India (34 percent) and China (32 percent) remain the least trusted.

Globally, only 40 percent agreed with the statement “my family and I will be better off in five years” compared to 50 percent a year before, with advanced economies most downbeat: the United States (36 percent), Britain (23 percent), Germany (15 percent) and Japan (9 percent).

Fast-growing economies saw much higher scores — albeit lower than last year — with only China bucking the trend with a one percentage point rise to 65 percent despite the economic disruption caused by its now-relaxed “zero Covid” policies.

Such anxieties reflect deep uncertainty about the state of the global economy as the Ukraine war continues and central banks hike their lending rates to tame inflation. The World Bank on Tuesday warned it could tip into recession this year.

While Edelman’s longstanding Trust Index registered an average 63 percent trust level in key institutions among high-income US respondents, that figure fell to just 40 percent among low-income groups. Similar income-based divergences were present in Saudi Arabia, China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

In some, that hinted at outright polarisation, with high levels of respondents agreeing with the statement “I see deep divisions, and I don’t think we’ll ever get past them” in countries as different as Argentina, the United States, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Colombia.

While such attitudes inevitably reflect current events, the ebbing of trust in government in particular has been a key theme of the survey for several years, with its trust levels this year sharply lower than relatively healthy ones scored by businesses.

Edelman attributed that to positive perceptions of company furlough schemes during the pandemic, applause for company moves to exit Russia over the Ukraine war, and a sense that firms have started to up their games on diversity and inclusion.

He said respondents by a six-to-one margin wanted businesses to engage more on issues from reskilling to climate change and suggested this should encourage them to brush off accusations such as the “woke capitalism” charge voiced by US Republicans.

“I think our data give a lot of ammunition to the CEOs who have recognised that business has to be an important force in societal issues,” he said.

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