Every year since 2000, venerable Public Relations outfit Edelman releases the Edelman Trust Barometer to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This year is no exception. Their findings for 2023 reveal that society believes that business is the “only institution seen as competent and ethical.”
The Barometer delivers a raft of statistics that show government, business, the media, and NGOs engaged in a race to the bottom when it comes to who’s least trustworthy. Let’s look at their findings.
On a summative level, the study found that 62% of 36,000 respondents in 28 countries see business as both competent and ethical, compared with 59% for nongovernmental agencies (NGOs), 51% for governments, and 50% for the media (for the record we love our journalist friends and trust every word they say). That was attributed to how companies treated workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and return to offices, as well as many businesses vowing to exit Russia after it invaded Ukraine.
Respondents still said they distrusted CEOs as well as government leaders and journalists while trusting their own corporate executives, co-workers, and neighbors. Scientists were trusted the most — by 76% of those surveyed.
“The increased level of trust in business brings with it higher-than-ever expectations of CEOs to be a leading voice on societal issues,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “By a six-to-one margin, respondents want more societal involvement by business on issues such as climate change, economic inequality and workforce reskilling.”
The devil is in the details
Overall, the top-line results haven’t changed much from a last year; business advanced one percentage point. But what stands out is that the countries with the most polarized politics are paying a hefty price in terms of trust (not really surprising). If you look at the scores on the doors, business now holds a 53-point lead over government when it comes to competence and is 30 points ahead on ethics.
“A lack of faith in societal institutions triggered by economic anxiety, disinformation, mass-class divide, and a failure of leadership has brought us to where we are today – deeply and dangerously polarized.”
The US and UK are fairly high up in Edelman’s “severely polarized” quadrant, with trust in the UK government declining by 5 points over last year. The calculation is based on a combination of perceived polarization and faith that those divisions can be overcome.
More than 40% of the survey believe governments and companies must work together to solve social issues, with the burden on the most trusted institution, business, to bring people together. 64% of respondents feel companies supporting politicians and media outlets that build consensus would help increase civility and strengthen society.
Plenty of food for thought in the Trust Barometer, but the results aren’t shocking. It feels like an opportunity for CEOs to drive real change and strengthen or improve their reputations and those of their companies. Let’s see what next year brings, but in the meantime, take a moment to understand better what’s being said about your brand and executives, and let us know if you need any help.