Survey Finds Business Became Most Trusted Institution in 2020

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jan 13, 2021
The latest Edelman survey on public trust, which measures how people around the world feel about various societal institutions, has found that business leaders are the only ones that respondents had at least some reliable degree of trust in, compared to government, media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). As of the beginning of this year, among the four, business is the only one viewed by respondents as both competent and ethical; NGOs were seen as ethical but not competent; government and media were seen as both unethical and incompetent.

The highest level of trust was with the respondents' own employers: 76 percent said they trust their employer, compared to the 61 percent who said they trust businesses generally, 57 percent who said they trust NGOs, 53 percent who said they trust their government, and 51 percent who said they trust the media.

However, all things are relative. While business leads the pack for most trusted institution, no one came out of 2020 looking all that good. Government leaders, religious leaders, journalists and CEOs all had fewer than 50 percent of people believe they can be "trusted to do what's right." More trusted were "people in my local community," "my employer," and "scientists." Though all categories saw declines in public trust this year, and in fact while "scientists" and "people in my local community" remained high on the total amount of trust, they each saw a 7 percent loss in trust over the year, bigger than even the disfavored institutions (whom, presumably, many already don't like which might make it more difficult to get any lower).

Further, while the respondents do trust business more than government, the margin does not appear to be all that large: while 57 percent of respondents agreed that "[o]ur government leaders are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things  they know are false or gross exaggerations," 56 percent  said the exact same thing about business leaders. For media figures it was 59 percent.

At the same time, while more than half of the respondents think business leaders are actively lying to them, 68 percent still think CEOs should step in if government is not addressing a societal problem, 66 percent said CEOs should take the lead on enacting change, and 65 percent said CEOs should be accountable to the public as a whole, rather than to just shareholders or the board. Respondents also, by an overwhelming amount, say CEOs should speak out on social issues, 86 percent.

The online survey encompassed 28 countries and more than 33,000 respondents. It was conducted from Oct.19 to Nov. 18, 2020.

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