According to the 2017 edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer, the public’s dramatic and rapid erosion of institutional trust is a global phenomenon. Business is one of the institutional sectors that is losing credibility and seen as stoking fear. The reality is the business practices and public perceptions are contributing to the increasing rise of populism`s new normal of volatile uncertainty.
People worry about losing their jobs due to lack of training skills or foreign competition (60% each), immigrants working for less (58%), jobs moving to cheaper markets (55%) and automation (54%). Half agreed to avoid trade agreements because they hurt local workers, 69% want to prioritize national interests and 72% want governments to protect local jobs even if the economy grows more slowly.
The reality is people believe the system is broken and it is failing them. Even those at the top in education, income and well-informed are disillusioned and believe the system is not working. Globally 53% felt:
- A sense of injustice, because the system is indifferent to regular people and biased in favor of elites who are seen as getting richer than they deserve;
- A lack of hope, because hard work is no longer rewarded, next generation will not be better off, and the country is moving in the wrong direction;
- A lack of confidence in current leaders, non-elite outsiders have preference;
- And a desire for change towards forceful reformers to bring about change.
The business practices and public perceptions are increasing rise of populism and contributing to the new normal of volatile uncertainty. Fears fuel belief in system failure in areas of increases in corruption, globalization, eroding social values, immigration and the pace of innovation. Growing fears and a general sense of system failure all serve to enable populist political actions.
Solutions for companies to pursue as seen by those who believe in system failure were: Treat employees well (72%), provide high quality produces and services (68%), listen to customers (67%), pay a fair share of taxes (66%) and improve ethical business practices (65%). In every category of communications, employees were always seen as the most credible and trusted information source. PR types were perpetually the least credible or trusted and only 37% see CEOs as credible as a source of information when people are forming an opinion on a company.
Concerns Have Become Fears. Worldwide results are alarming. Corruption compromising safety is widespread as a concern for 69% and a fear for 40%. Globalization taking away jobs is a concern for 62% and a fear for 27%. Pace of innovation that it is happening too quickly is a concern for 51% and a fear for 22%.
The key countries that have recently experienced the consequences of “systemic distrust” and “above average belief the system is failing” are USA (rise of Trumpism), UK (Brexit). The same is becoming true in France (emergence of Pen) and Germany (Merkel being challenged) as they head into elections.
In Canada, 55% believe in system failure and 30% are uncertain. Trust in Canadian business has dropped 6 points between 2016 and 2017 surveys and are just slightly below the averages of the 28 participating countries.
Facts matter less as nearly 50% agreed Ì would support politicians I trust to make things better for me and my family even if they exaggerated the truth. (emphasis added)
Bias is the filter. 53% agreed they don`t regularly listen to people or organizations which whom I disagree and people are 4 times more likely to ignore information that supports a something other that what they believe in. 52% never or rarely change opinion or position on important social issues.
Information sources are changing. Since 2012 trust in search engine results is the only media source to gains support and has become dominant at 62%. Traditional media is down 5% to 57%. On-line only media is up 5 points to 51% trust and social media is down 3points to 41%.
The changes in beliefs, trust, issues, information sources and fears are dramatic and dynamic. Business cannot afford to ignore or be indifferent to these findings. Nor can they decline to engage in seeking mutually beneficial solutions in service of the greater good with the other institutions, especially government, non-traditional media and NGO allies. They are all under similar pressures to change. Collaboration, communications and conscientiousness are the keys to restoring the public trust.