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Global Distrust in Institutions Persists Despite Strong Economy, Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2020 Reveals

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A new report by Edelman reveals widespread distrust in societal institutions—government, business, NGOs, and the media—despite the global economy’s strength. The “Trust Barometer 2020,” released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, surveyed over 34,000 individuals across 28 countries, uncovering a phenomenon dubbed the “trust paradox.” People’s fears about the future are driving this trend, with the report urging institutions to balance competence with ethical behavior to regain public trust.

The report found that 56% of respondents believe contemporary capitalism does more harm than good globally, and less than a third of individuals in developed markets think their families will be better off in five years. Additionally, 83% of employees globally fear job loss due to automation, recession, lack of training, cheaper foreign competition, immigration, and the gig economy.

“We are living in a trust paradox,” stated Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. Historically, economic growth has led to rising trust, which remains true in Asia and the Middle East but not in developed markets, where income inequality is a more significant concern. Fears are dampening hope, and the belief that hard work leads to upward mobility is fading.

The survey indicated that none of the four institutions—government, business, NGOs, and the media—are trusted by the public. Wealthier and more educated individuals tend to trust institutions more than the general population, highlighting a “mass-class” trust divide, which has reached record levels in numerous countries.

Trust in technology companies has also declined, with a global four-point drop from 2019 to 2020, and significant declines in France, Canada, Italy, Russia, Singapore, and the U.S. Concerns about the rapid pace of technological change and the reliability of information were prevalent, with 61% feeling technology evolves too quickly and 66% worrying about the authenticity of what they see and hear.

Respondents also expressed concerns about receiving accurate information, with 57% believing the media they consume is “contaminated with untrustworthy information” and 76% fearing “fake news” as a weapon, up six points from 2018.

A lack of faith in government to address these issues was evident, as 66% of respondents lacked confidence in their leaders’ ability to tackle national challenges. Trust in religious leaders, government leaders, and the wealthy was also low, at 46%, 42%, and 36%, respectively. However, 80% of respondents trust scientists, 69% trust people in their local community, and 65% trust fellow citizens.

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