Despite popular belief, the world is not experiencing a 'crisis of trust'

In the Ipsos Global Trustworthiness Monitor, we again find that, despite popular belief, the world is not experiencing a ‘crisis of trust’. Furthermore, the monitor reveals that pharmaceuticals, banking companies, and governments are now seen as more trustworthy than they were three years ago.

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  • Carl Phillips Corporate Reputation
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When we released our first edition in this series “Trust: The Truth” back in 2019, our objective was to address three main narratives as a response to the way trust was being discussed by journalists, business leaders, and politicians. The first narrative was that trust was in an unprecedented “crisis” and that we were living through a period in which trust in business and the major institutions of society was collapsing. The second narrative, and often closely associated with the first, was that trust is a relatively simple concept that could be easily improved with a “silver bullet”. The third, and far less controversial, narrative was the critical role that trust plays in the day-to-day interaction between us, as citizens and consumers, and the brands and organisations with which we interact.

Using data from the first edition of the Ipsos Global Trustworthiness Monitor, extensive desk research, and data pulled from a multitude of other sources, Ipsos concluded that;

  • There was no evidence to suggest that trust was in “crisis”. While trust may have been low for many organisations, sectors, or professions, there was little evidence that this had changed much in recent years. Trust may well need to be rebuilt, but there has been no new crisis to address.
  • Trust was a complex concept with many, varied, statistically significant drivers. These include everything from core competence and product quality to acting responsibly and a sense of whether an organisation will take advantage of you or not.

What we did conclude, is that trust is a hugely important concept that all organisations and professions need to take notice of and that the focus should not be on whether consumers trust you (which you cannot control); it should be on what steps you have taken to be trustworthy (which you can control).

Since 2019, a lot of things have changed. We have seen the rise in importance of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors, an increased focus on Net Zero, more high-profile instances of fake news/misinformation, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on society and the economy. This was the perfect time to revisit this work and explore the same concepts again, not only to see if these trends and events have changed anything, but also because the same misconceptions we wanted to counter in 2019 are still prevalent, especially the idea that trust is in crisis: a narrative now boosted by the impact of COVID-19 and the rise of populist politicians.

In our latest edition (2021) and just as we did in 2019, we have concluded that the evidence does not support the narrative of worsening trust, be that a new crisis or an ongoing older one. Levels of trust in key societal institutions are not great, but they often never have been. Trust in politicians and the media is low, but that has also barely changed over the decades and has not moved much over the last three years. The pandemic has impacted society and the world in ways we can’t yet predict, but it has not yet had a major impact on how much the people of the world trust the institutions and industries with which they interact. The focus of the global elite on trust is likely to reflect the increasing scrutiny that governments, institutions, and industries are under from an increasingly vocal global population that is no longer quite so deferential as they once were.

But what is to be done? Accepting that the world, communication, news, and the flow of information, have changed, even if trust has not, is a good starting point. Taking it further, those in positions of leadership need to accept that deference is dead, and trust must be earned. Critical to this is that instead of looking to rebuild trust back to mythical levels of the past, organisations, governments, and industries need to critically appraise whether they are acting in a trustworthy manner, according to the criteria that global citizens and consumers expect, and react accordingly. Only once they possess the traits of the trustworthy, demonstrated repeatedly over time, will trust flourish.

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Technical note

These are the findings of an Ipsos online survey conducted 25 June – 9 July 2021 via the Ipsos Online Panel system in 29 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China (mainland), Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States. The headline index results for this year are based on the full 29-country sample while trend results look back to previous waves of the survey focus only on the 22 countries which have featured in all three waves of the survey.

The results comprise an international sample of 21,503 adults aged 16-74 in most countries and aged 18-74 in Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, Turkey and the United States. The samples consist of approximately 1,000 individuals in each of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland), France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain and the U.S. and 500 individuals in each of Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey.

The samples in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and United States can be taken as representative of their general adult population under the age of 75. The samples in other countries (Brazil, China, Chile, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey) produce a national sample that is more urban and educated, and with higher incomes than their fellow citizens. The survey results for these countries should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more “connected” segment of their population.

Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to the most recent country Census data.

The “Global Country Average” reflects the average result for all countries and markets where the survey was conducted. It has not been adjusted to the population size of each country and is not intended to suggest a total result.

Where results do not sum to 100 or the difference appears to be plus or minus one point more or less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses, or the exclusion of “don’t know” or not stated responses.

The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to plus or minus 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to plus or minus 5.0 percentage points. For more information on the use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website.

The publication of these findings abides by local rules and regulations.

The author(s)

  • Carl Phillips Corporate Reputation

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