The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, released today, reveals that despite a strong global economy and near full employment, Australians do not trust any of the four institutions measured: government, business, media and NGOs.
Findings from a Supplementary Trust Barometer study showed that the national bushfire crisis sparked a dramatic decline in Australia’s Trust Index, from an all-time high of 68-points in the informed public to 59-points, a 9-point blow in just three months. In the mass population, trust hovers at just 45-points, confirming Australians’ distrusting psyche prevails in 2020.
The Edelman Trust Barometer, in field in October and November 2019, revealed Australia has the largest trust inequality in the world and also produced Australia’s highest trust gap on record, with a 23-point gap between the trusting informed public (68-points) and the more skeptical mass population (45-points). Following the 2019/20 bushfires, a Supplementary Trust Barometer study found that the gap between the informed public and mass population narrowed by 9 points down to a 14-point gap. A dramatic trust regression in the informed public, reflecting the entire nation’s mood.
Edelman Australia CEO, Michelle Hutton [feature image], confirmed that environmental issues are now at the top of Australians’ concerns, with 89 per cent of the general population citing the bushfires, droughts, water shortage and global warming among their top concerns. Ms Hutton states that while Australians are asking big questions about the future, institutions must drive action, embrace potentially difficult change and instill the confidence the nation is looking for.
“Australia’s informed public saw a severe breakdown of trust from the government in response to the recent bushfire catastrophes. This should have been an opportunity to unite the nation and build security but instead, the lack of empathy, authenticity and communications crushed trust across the country,” Hutton said.
“Australians no longer feel in control. The new decade marks an opportunity for our institutions to step up, take action, and lead on key issues that will unite Australians and instill hope for the future.”
No institution is seen as both Competent and Ethical
The data revealed business as the only institution seen as competent, holding a 56-point edge over government. NGOs lead as the only ethical institution by 21-points over business and media, and 35-points over government. Government and media are seen as neither competent or ethical, with government ranking significantly lower on both scales than the other three institutions.
“Trust today is granted on two distinct attributes: competence, delivering on promises, and ethical behavior, doing the right thing and working to improve society. It is no longer only a matter of what you do—it’s also how you do it. Trust is undeniably linked to doing what is right. The battle for trust will be fought on the field of ethical behavior,” said Hutton.
Australians agree that business have the ability to get things done – a key factor in competence – citing generating value for its owners (56 per cent), driving economic prosperity (46 per cent) and leading innovation (43 per cent), as areas they do best in. However, business falls short of ethical behaviour.
NGOs in comparison are perceived as ethical with the right intentions but fall short on competence. They are seen as doing best at working against challenges like human rights (40 per cent), protecting the environment (37 per cent), or addressing community-level problems (37 per cent).
Ethical drivers are three times more important than competence. The Edelman Trust Management study, with data tracked across 40 major companies in three markets showed that ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability and purpose drive 76 per cent of the trust capital of a company, while competence accounts for only 24 per cent.
Capitalism is under fire
Despite Australia entering its 28th year of consecutive annual economic growth, only a third of Australians (32 per cent) believe they will be better off in five years’ time, and half of the population (50 per cent) believe that capitalism as it exists today is now doing more harm than good in the world. Moreover, 57 per cent of Australians don’t think democracy is effective as a form of government.
“Australians feel a lack of confidence in the system. They feel that’s as it is currently constructed, it is broken. The Australian dream is fragile, the general population are in a place of pessimism that is accompanied by a call for change,” said Hutton.
An uncertain outlook for the future is leading people to question whether the system as whole is working. Seventy-six per cent feel a sense of injustice in the world today, while 73 per cent desire change and 72 per cent feel a lack of confidence in the ability to make it happen.
Partnership across institutions is the way forward
Unfairness, dishonesty and a lack of vision for the future are key reasons why we distrust institutions. Over half of Australians say government (61 per cent) and business (59 per cent) serves the interest of only a few. Government (48 per cent) and media (45 per cent) in particular are seen to be corrupt, biased, and overall lacking honesty in what they do. While NGOs were seen as the most honest, with 49 per cent of Australians believing they are honest and fair in their dealings.
Across the board, people believe that cross-institutional partnership is the pathway for change. Every institution has the opportunity to earn trust by leveraging complementary skills and focusing on their strengths. And CEOs must lead: 78 per cent of Australians believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.
“Overwhelmingly our supplementary study showed people are looking to government and business to partner on vital issues of the moment. Listening to stakeholder concerns and partnering together to achieve a common goal is this year a key theme across institutions – but with Australians not able to see their ability or willingness to do this in a meaningful way,” Hutton concluded.