Between confidence and confusion

March: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is charged with abuse of power and money laundering

Ipsos | Almanac 2024 | Trust

March saw former Malaysian Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, charged with abuse of power and money laundering. In the same month, Donald Trump become the first former US President to be charged with criminal activity.

These are not isolated incidents. Since 1980, around half of the world's countries have had at least one case of a former leader being imprisoned or prosecuted. This year alone, an alarming number of politicians around the world are under investigation for crimes.

In Pakistan, former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for illegally selling state gifts. In Ecuador, President Guillermo Lasso faced an impeachment trial after being accused of turning a blind eye to alleged embezzlement. And in Brazil, the Supreme Court voted to sentence former President Fernando Collor de Mello to almost nine years in prison for corruption and money laundering. A quarter of people globally (25%) say financial or political corruption is one of the biggest issues facing their country – the fifth highest concern in our latest What Worries the World survey.

No surprises on the least trusted profession (again)

Trust is essential to good governance. An effective democracy relies on trust, but many people have little faith in their government.

For the fifth year running, our Global Trustworthiness Index shows that politicians are the world’s least trusted profession, with just 14% of people in 31 countries saying they are trustworthy. Trust is highest in India (33%) and lowest in Argentina, where only 6% consider politicians to be trustworthy. Similarly, government officials are just above them in the list, with 17% saying they are trustworthy.

However, despite being the least trusted, both politicians and government officials have seen their individual trustworthiness ratings increase slightly over the past five years. Trust in these groups, while low, is still in a better position than it was in 2018 – a trend replicated across all sectors and institutions in our Trustworthiness Monitor – indicating that perhaps all is not lost when it comes to trust.

Made with Flourish

The impact of emerging technologies

It’s almost impossible to talk about trust and politics without talking about the impact of digital advances and the rise of fake news.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. Globally, almost three-quarters (74%) of people think AI is making it easier to generate very realistic fake news stories and images, while 51% say AI will make misinformation and disinformation worse.

Examining the potential risks of AI, our recent report suggests that there are echoes of the emergence of radio in the early 20th century, in terms of the simultaneous spread of political disinformation and the rise of the political right.

It remains uncertain whether the growing reliance on emerging technologies will lead to a greater decline in trust. In our study on AI and Disinformation, we find a majority (53%) of people across the world believe there is more lying and misuse of facts in politics and media than there was 30 years ago (down from 57% in 2018). At a country level, the picture is mixed.

In the US, this belief has fallen by 5pp to 64% under President Joe Biden, compared to 69% who felt the same way under Donald Trump in 2018. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the political climate when he was in office and the fact that Trump himself regularly used the term “fake news” to try and discredit mainstream news organisations.

On the other hand, contrary to the global average, many countries have seen an increase over the past five years in the number of people agreeing that there’s more lying/misuse of facts in politics and the media, including South Korea (+14ppt), Turkey (+11ppt), Germany (+7ppt), Belgium (+5ppt), and Great Britain (+3ppt).

There is no questioning the power of fake news to undermine previously reliable sources and cause unease – something which many politicians are using to their benefit. Our Flair Brazil article on political polarisation highlighted the influence of fake news in Brazil, where government bodies and political parties are taking advantage of the ease of spreading disinformation online to weaken the image of their opponents and strengthen their own positions.

Ipsos | Almanac 2024 | Trust

Rebuilding trust

It’s difficult to foresee a major positive shift in attitudes around trust and politicians. However, the slight upturn in recent years seems to suggest that trust isn’t in long-term decline.

The current global polycrisis means that people are looking to all the major players – including politicians – to act. Yet, lack of trust is a barrier: 72% of people are worried that governments and public services won’t look after citizens in the future.

It’s clear that rebuilding trust is a significant challenge, but there is room for optimism. Our latest AXA Future Risks report reveals that people are more likely now than last year to say that they have confidence in a range of actors to tackle any new global crisis that might occur in the next 12 months.

For politicians and wider governments, gaining public trust will require a strong commitment to reliability, transparency, and responsible behaviour – our top three global trust drivers. The road ahead is undoubtedly difficult, but there are signs trust can be restored.