Trust in government has plunged worldwide as faith in business manages to hold steady, according to a recent survey from the public relations firm Edelman.

Trust in Government Falls Worldwide, Trust in Business Holds Steady

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The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 44 percent of people with a university education trust government. That’s a sizable decrease from 2011 when roughly 52 percent of university-educated respondents said they trusted government.

At an astonishing 14 point difference, the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed the survey’s largest-ever gap between trust in government and trust in business.

“This is a profound evolution in the landscape of trust from 2009, where business had to partner with government to regain trust,” agency CEO Richard Edelman said.

The gap between those who trust business and those who trust government didn’t grow because more people trust business. Rather, the Edelman survey noted, the gap grew because of an increase in the number of people who distrust government.

Declining trust in current government officials could open the door to the election of more radical leaders, the reported warned.

Of the 27 countries surveyed, nearly half saw a decline of 20 points or more in trust in government. France and the United States, for instance, saw sharp decreases of roughly 17 and 16 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, the gap between trust in business and government grew in the United States by 21 points, in India by 26 points and by 36 points in Brazil.

“Trust in business has stabilized at 58 percent due to the perception that it has made demonstrable change in the form of better products and new leadership,” Edelman said in a statement.

True, overall trust in business held steady at 58 percent, the report added, but business leaders aren’t out of the woods yet.

“It has typically fallen to government to create the context for change but it is either incapable or unwilling to do it,” Edelman said. “People trust business to innovate, unite and deliver across borders in a way that government can’t. That trust comes with the expectation and responsibility to maintain it. Therefore, CEOs must become chief engagement officers in order to educate the public about the economic, societal, political and environmental context in which their business operates.”

The report said only government officials are trusted less than business CEOS, signalling that business still has some ways to go before it can be fully trusted.   In fact, both groups have one thing in common: They are both distrusted by a majority of respondents.

The groups most trusted, however, were technical experts, regular employees and academics.

Roughly 84 percent of the survey’s respondents said they believe it’s possible for businesses to pursue its own interests while remaining a responsible component of society.

Trust in business was driven by “four key factors,” the report explained: Industry sector, enterprise type, CEO trust and country of origin.

Technology (79 percent) and automotive (70 percent) were the most trusted industry sectors, while banks (51 percent) were least trusted,” the report added.

Europe’s trust in banks was particularly low, with Spain falling to 16 percent, Italy to 23 percent, the U.K. to 32 percent, Germany to 33 percent and France 38 percent.

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