Hold the front page: the public do not trust politicians! While it might not come as a surprise that our recent poll for the BMA shows that only 14% of the public think politicians tell the truth, and 80% - that’s four in every five people – actively say they do not tell the truth, it is more interesting to place this in context. Even bankers – widely blamed by the public for the current economic problems facing the country – are more trusted than politicians.
The Ipsos Veracity Index measures the public’s trust in a number of professions, and has been running ever since 1983. In this time, doctors have always been top of the index – this year is no different with nearly nine in ten adults (88%) saying they trust doctors to tell the truth and eight in ten (81%) telling us they trust teachers. This poses a stark contrast to the 14% who trust politicians and 17% who trust government ministers.
It is a common myth among politicians and political commentators that politicians have lost the trust of the public – but in truth, they’ve never held that trust, at least not since 1983 when we began measuring it. Back then, 18% said they trusted politicians generally and 75% did not trust them. While 1999 represented a high, with 23% saying they trust politicians, the relative level of trust has always been low and since the expenses scandal broke that level of trust fell to 13% in 2009, and 14% now.
The Veracity Index brings mixed news for journalists. The good news: they are no longer the least trusted profession. There have been times in recent years when trust in journalists was even lower than for politicians and government ministers, but since 2009 that has not been the case. The bad news is that just one in five adults (19%) say they trust journalists to tell the truth and seven in ten (70%) do not. While this places them just above government ministers and politicians, journalists are trusted less than bankers, trade union officials and all other professions included in this research. Interestingly though, while journalists have a very low level of trust among the public, television news readers are much more trusted (62%).
So, politicians have never been trusted – but neither have journalists – which doesn’t help those politicians who try and “restore public trust” through the media. The question therefore is whether they should try and increase public trust or – given that it has been so low for long – just accept it and think of other ways to gain credibility and relevance with the public.