Edelman Study Urges CEOs to Lead as Trust in Government is Low; Trust Index Way Down in U.S.

The start of the year means many things: new goals, fresh opportunities and, of course, the Edelman Trust Barometer.

For the past few years this indicator of global attitudes has been a sobering read. The 2013 report was called “Crisis of Leadership.” The 2017 report was subtitled “Trust in Crisis.” This year’s tome seems slightly less depressing; its subtitle is “The Battle for Truth.” In short, trust in U.S. institutions (see middle chart) fell the most, trust in China’s institutions rose the most.

With the rise of social media and branded newsrooms, an often-cited section of the report in PR circles is the one that looks at trust in media. On that count, though, this year isn’t all bad. The 2017 mark for trust in media in what Edelman calls “the general population” was 43%. Although that’s a low mark—nothing is lower, actually—the 2018 grade is exactly the same, 43%. In terms of “the informed public,” both government and the media are at 53% in 2018. Both were at 53 in the 2017 report.

The findings about trust in media from the Knight-Gallup report detailed on page 6 in this week’s edition are very similar to those Edelman raises. Fake news again looms large.

When people lack trust in media, they turn elsewhere for authoritative voices. Edelman points to the rise in trust of CEOs (see top chart), up 7 percentage points in a ranking where people were asked to rate each spokesperson as “very or extremely credible.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the report also notes the rise in trust of journalists, up 12 percentage points vs 2017. Yes, trust in journalists is up, while trust in media is down.

In contrast, trust in what the report calls a “person like you” has dipped to a record low (down 6%).

Still the person like you is relatively high on the “Voices of Authority” ranking at 54, following only technical expert (63) and academic expert (61). Journalist (39) leads only government official (35). CEO is just a bit higher, at 44. Employee is at 47. The table (bottom) shows trust in industries; as you can see, trust in most is down.

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