Americans Trust Their Employers, Distrust Media and Government, Survey Says

'Rampant infodemic is fueling widespread mistrust of societal leaders'
January 13, 2021 Updated: January 13, 2021

Americans trust their employers far more than the business and NGO community more generally, while distrusting both government and media, according to a new study.

Institutional confidence among Americans is highly localized, according to an annual survey (pdf) released Jan. 13 by public relations firm Edelman, which shows that 72 percent of U.S. respondents believe their employer is a mainstay of trust.

“Trust has gone local,” Edelman CEO Richard Edelman said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 1.9 million lives lost and joblessness equivalent to the Great Depression, has accelerated the erosion of trust.”

Americans expressed neutral levels of trust in business (54 percent) and NGOs (50 percent), while distrusting the media (45 percent) and government (42 percent), the survey showed. A score between 50 and 59 percent reflects a neutral level of trust, while a score below 49 percent shows distrust, according to survey methodology. Scores above 60 percent reflect positive levels of trust.

Business is the only institution people trust globally (61 percent), with neutral levels of trust in NGOs (57 percent), government (53 percent), and media (51 percent.)

“Business has emerged as the last institution standing, the only one rated as both competent and ethical and 50 points ahead of government on competence and approaching NGOs on ethics,” Edelman said.

Meanwhile, trust in all news sources has hit record lows, fueling mistrust of societal leaders.

“This is the era of information bankruptcy,” Edelman said. “Media sources are seen as politicized and biased. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness.

“Fifty-seven percent of Americans find the political and ideological polarization so extreme that they believe the U.S. is in the midst of a cold civil war.”

Most people responding to the survey think that government leaders (57 percent), business leaders (56 percent), and journalists (59 percent) are intentionally trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false.

“The pandemic and infodemic are two strands of a Rambo DNA, inextricably linked in their destructive force,” Edelman said. “Government and media, the usual sources of quality information in a crisis, have both failed to meet the test.”

Americans see a crisis in societal leadership on a number of fronts, the survey shows, with employer CEOs the only ones trusted by both Biden and Trump voters. Of the people who said they voted for President-elect Joe Biden, 68 percent said they trust their workplace leadership; among those who voted for President Donald Trump, this figure stood at 61 percent.

There’s active distrust in government leaders among both groups of voters, with 45 percent of Biden supporters and just 28 percent of Trump voters saying they have confidence in elected officials. There is also mistrust in business leaders, with just 41 percent of Biden backers and 35 percent of Trump supporters saying they trust business CEOs.

“This is truly a run on the bank of trust,” Edelman said of the findings.

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