Times of uncertainty often drive people to governments.
And during the Covid-19 pandemic, many governments seem to be delivering.
Trust in governments surged to an all-time high around the world, according to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update report released last week.
The April survey covered about 13,200 people in 11 countries – Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The global public relations firm Edelman has been reporting its findings on trust – which it says is critical to the success of the work of any institution – on the Trust Barometer every year since 2000.
Edelman’s survey this year was timed to assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people’s trust in four institutions – government, media, business and NGOs (non-governmental organisations). All field work was conducted between April 15 and 23.
The poll showed that while trust in all institutions generally rose, people’s trust in the government had surged 11 points since January, making it the first time the government has become the most trusted institution in 20 years of the survey.
Sharing this key finding during a webinar last Wednesday, Edelman’s head of reputation (North Asia) Antoine Calendrier cautioned that “this could likely be a bubble” and would not last.
“Never before has the government been the most trusted, and the figures represent a doubling from 2012. This is a time for businesses to think how do you collaborate with the government,” he said.
However, an assessment of data over the past years shows that most markets go through a “trust loss”, or a change in the perception of the credibility of institutions. So it is “more likely to be a bubble. But it still is a major change in the landscape”, he said.
Over the years, Edelman’s work has shown that trust matters to consumers, employers, regulators, investors, the market as well as the media. Trusted companies find themselves having stronger consumers and advocates. In the marketplace, such companies have a greater licence to operate and are more likely to receive institutional investment. Their stock often outperforms the industry sectors’.
The firm surveyed 1,200 respondents in each of the markets, with the respondents aged above 18.
Edelman poll’s spring update report showed that, besides the government, there was an increase in trust – of four points – in business, but there has been a marked disappointment in how the private sector performed during the crisis.
The pandemic also exposed several areas of concern. Among them, half the people believed business is doing poorly, is mediocre or completely failing at putting people before profits, and only 43 per cent believed that companies are protecting their employees sufficiently from Covid-19.
Trust in news sources is also at an all-time high, with traditional media gaining the most.
Edelman’s findings showed that the quest for reliable and accurate information tied to the pandemic was driving trust in news sources to an all-time high.
Trust in traditional media was the highest and saw a 7-point increase while owned media also saw gains. Owned media refers to websites, blogs, software applications or apps that are owned and controlled by a brand or a company that is not a media company.
Close to two-thirds of the respondents remained anxious about fake news and people wanted to hear more expert voices from the most trusted sources of information, among them doctors, scientists and national health officials.
In other findings, more than half the people worried about job loss due to the pandemic while two-thirds were concerned about the harm that the spread of fake information could do.
A statement issued by Edelman said respondents wanted the government to lead in all areas of the pandemic response, including containing the pandemic, helping people cope with the pandemic, informing the public, providing economic relief and support, and getting the country back to normal.
Survey results showed that a majority of the respondents (61 per cent) were willing to give their personal health and location-tracking information to the government to help contain the spread of the virus. And nearly 75 per cent felt that pandemic-related restrictions on their freedom of movement were reasonable and appropriate.
Participants at the Edelman webinar felt the findings were “a moment of reckoning” for businesses.
Chief executive officers were ranked lowest on the list of those doing an outstanding job during the pandemic, with academics and scientists ranked the highest.
Edelman CEO John Kerr advised companies that if they had a pre-Covid-19 narrative, it would not work after the pandemic.
“Freshen up your value sets, freshen up as an organisation. You should be going through a very deep introspection,” he told listeners at the virtual event.
The survey findings also showed that people wanted to see a vibrant partnership between the government and businesses to revitalise economies and get people back to work. And more than two-thirds of respondents (67 per cent) wanted saving lives prioritised over saving jobs.
And while trust in NGOs was up slightly, respondents in seven of the 11 countries felt their local NGOs were not prepared to deal with the health crisis.