Trust in Institutions Polarized in 2018 – Plummets in the US, Rises in China

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that public trust in government, business, media and NGOs remains under pressure around the globe, with strongly diverging developments in the worlds’ two largest economies: the U.S. and China. The U.S. suffered the largest-ever-recorded drop in the survey’s history among the general population, driven by a staggering lack of faith in government to do the right thing. In China, trust increases across the board, with government leading the way. The global Trust Index, which averages the public’s trust across four key institutions, puts public trust in the distrust zone in 20 out of the 28 countries surveyed.

The collapse of trust in the U.S. is driven by a 14-point drop in trust of the government to 33% among the general population. The remaining institutions of business, media and NGOs followed suit with declines ranging from 5 to 10 points. Record rises in the stock market and extremely low unemployment have been juxtaposed with stagnant wage growth and public concerns over jobs, mass shootings, sexual harassment as well as fears over North Korea, job migration and U.S. isolationism. The result is an unsettled and unnerved public at large.

In the battle for trust, the biggest victim has been confidence in truth. Persistent references to fake news linked to headlines around foreign government election manipulation have had a cumulative, toxic effect on the public. 63% of general population finds it difficult to distinguish between what is real news and what is fake. The public’s confidence in traditional structures of leadership has been undermined and been replaced with a strong sense of fear, uncertainty and disillusionment.

“This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. The root cause of this fall is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse.”

In this year’s edition of the Barometer, China finds itself atop the Trust Index. Institutions within China saw significant increases in trust led by government, which jumped eight points to 84% among the general population. Joining China at the top of the Trust Index are India, Indonesia, UAE and Singapore.

“It is clear that when it comes to trust, the world is becoming increasingly polarized. While trust across institutions in the world’s largest economy, the United States, collapsed, trust levels increased dramatically in upcoming global leader China,” said Arent Jan Hesselink, General Manager and CEO of Edelman Amsterdam. “We are witnessing a battle for truth, an erosion of a collective understanding what is fact and what is fiction and what is progress and what is decline.”

The general public’s trust in the Netherlands remained largely stable. Trust in Businesses stayed in the trust zone at 60%, followed by media and government with largely unchanged trust scores of 55% and 54% respectively. With a trust score of 45%, NGOs are the only institution distrusted by the general public in the Netherlands.

“The Netherlands, true to form, seems to be charting its own course through this polarized world of trust,” said Hesselink. “Across most metrics, the Netherlands falls right in between things, with trust levels remaining stable at relatively high levels across institutions. Here we also see deep concern around the subject of truth and the reliability of information, yet this is not dragging trust levels down, particularly not to the extent we see across other Western countries.”

Reflecting on the role of business in society, Hesselink added: “Business continues to be expected to lead change in the Netherlands, as in other countries, and it is upon corporate leaders to ensure they take advantage of this promising vote of confidence in business.”

Business as change agents

The employer is the new safe house in global governance, with 72% of respondents saying that they trust their own company. And 64% believe a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates. Nearly two-thirds of respondents say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for government, which now ranks significantly below business in trust in 20 markets. This show of faith comes with new expectations; building trust (69%) is now the No. 1 job for CEOs, surpassing producing high-quality products and services (68%).

Revival of trust in experts and traditional journalism in a post-truth world

For the first time in the 18-year history of the survey, media is seen as the least trusted institution globally. In 22 of the 28 countries surveyed it is now distrusted. Respondents indicated that they in they include social media, online platforms, brands and search engines – in addition to the traditional media – in their understanding of media as an institution. The collapse of trust has been driven primarily by a significant drop in trust in platforms, notably search engines and social media, and an overall loss of confidence in information channels and sources, driven in part by the increased willful dissemination of disinformation.

In their search for the terra firma of stability and truth, respondents showed a revival of faith in experts and decline in peers. Technical (63%) and academic (61%) experts distanced themselves as the most credible spokesperson from “a person like yourself,” which dropped six points to 54%.  Respondents also showed renewed trust in traditional journalism, which rose five points from within the neutral zone the edge of the trust zone at 59%, while trust in platforms and social media, which had almost matched that of traditional media, sank to the edge of the distrust zone at 51%.


About the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer is the firm’s 18th annual trust and credibility survey. The survey was powered by research firm Edelman Intelligence and consisted of 30-minute online interviews conducted from October 28th – November 20th, 2017. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled more than 33,000 respondents across 28 markets.

For further information or questions you can contact Thomas McNeill at or at +316 – 10 15 16 78