NEW YORK, Jan. 26 Trust in business and government in the United States has improved significantly, according to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer. Among informed publics(1), trust in U.S. business to do what is right jumped 18 points since last year to 54 percent. Trust in U.S. companies is trending up in 19 of the 20 countries surveyed, with the largest increases - 20 percentage points or more - recorded in Europe, reversing years of low trust in U.S. companies across the EU and Russia. In the U.S., trust in government also rose 16 points since last year, to 46 percent, one of the largest increases in trust in government among the countries surveyed. These levels of trust are approaching those measured by Edelman before the "great recession," at the height of the economic expansion in 2006 and 2007. However, nearly two-thirds (59 percent) of U.S. respondents express concern that business and financial institutions will return to "business as usual" after the recession is over.
"The recovery in trust in business and government in the U.S. is somewhat counterintuitive, given unemployment numbers and the fragile economy. But people have seen business held accountable - whether it's a CEO being fired or prosecuted - and the stock market on the rebound," said Matthew Harrington, president & CEO, Edelman U.S. "As important, companies are engaging with all stakeholders about societal business challenges and not limiting their focus to shareholders. Walmart and Starbucks, for example, have put environmental sustainability at the center of their tangible commitments, and food companies like Quaker Oats, and its parent PepsiCo, and the National Dairy Council are helping promote healthy eating and physical activity(2). There is some concern that business will return to old habits once the economy picks up. But the economic crisis, coupled with the rise of social media, has brought about a new style of leadership based on transparency and authenticity."
For the first time, this year's survey shows that trust and transparency are as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services. In the U.S. and in much of Western Europe, those two attributes rank higher than product quality - and far outrank financial returns, which sits at or near the bottom of 10 criteria in all regions. This is in stark contrast to 2006, when financial performance was in third place in a list of 10 attributes shaping trust in the United States. An increasing number of respondents also expressed trust in information from a company's CEO - up 12 points, from 19 percent to 31 percent, which is still relatively low.
In the U.S., trust in all industries increased, except in banks, which went from being one of the most-trusted sectors before the recession (third behind technology and biotech in 2008) to near bottom of the list, declining from 71 percent to 33 percent in two years. It is, by far, the most dramatic decline in trust in any sector of any country tracked. It is not surprising, then, that 76 percent of U.S. opinion leaders expect government to influence financial institutions in the future. The banking sector is now among the least-trusted sectors in both Europe and the Americas, yet banks retain high levels of confidence in Asia. In the U.S., where banks' reputation plummeted, insurance and media companies rank lower than banks.
The last two years have been marked by growing skepticism of nearly all sources of information, as the credibility of TV news declined by 20 percentage points in the U.S., while radio news, newspapers and even information from friends and family dropped by 14 points or more. Today, less than 50 percent of people think the most trusted sources of information - articles in business magazines, and stock and industry analyst reports - are credible, down from 60 percent and 56 percent respectively in 2008. Trust in information from new media - blogs, social networks like Facebook, or free content sources like Wikipedia and Google News - remains low, with only between 10 percent to 22 percent of respondents expressing trust in information about companies from these sources.
"Trust provides corporations and organizations with their license to operate. Today, with no single source of trusted information, to advance brands and reputations companies need to continuously engage all audiences by building a mosaic of trust - cultivating a wide circle of expert spokespeople, communicating through a variety of channels, and partnering with NGOs to advance the common good," said Mr. Harrington.
Additional Key Findings Include:
Source: 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer
About the Edelman Trust Barometer
The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer is the firm's 10th annual trust and credibility survey. The survey was produced by research firm StrategyOne and consisted of 25-minute telephone interviews using the fielding services of World One from September 29 - December 6, 2009. The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer survey sampled 4,875 informed publics in two age groups (25-34 and 35-64) in 22 countries. All informed publics met the following criteria: college-educated; household income in the top quartile for their age in their country; read or watch business/news media at least several times a week; follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week. For more information, visit http://www.edelman.com/trust or call 212.704.4530.
Edelman is the world's leading independent public relations firm, with 3,200 employees in 51 offices worldwide. Edelman was named Advertising Age's top-ranked PR firm of the decade, PRWeek's "2009 Agency of the Year" and "Large Agency of the Year" (for the third time in the last four years), and Holmes Report's "Agency of the Decade" and "2009 Best Large Agency to Work For." Edelman owns specialty firms Blue (advertising), StrategyOne (research), and BioScience Communications (medical education and publishing). Visit www.edelman.com for more information.
(1) Informed publics met the following criteria: college-educated; household income in the top quartile for their age in their country; read or watch business/news media at least several times a week; follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week.
(2) Companies mentioned above are Edelman clients.
-- NGOs are the most trusted institution in the U.S. (63 percent), and there is greater confidence in business (54 percent) than in government (46 percent). -- In past Edelman Trust Barometers, as trust in business fell, trust in government increased. This year and last, however, they have fallen and risen in tandem, as people expect government to partner with business as well as act as a watchdog. -- Younger informed publics (ages 25-34) in the U.S. are more trusting of all institutions and in all sources of information about a company than their older counterparts (ages 35-64). -- Academics and experts on a company's industry or issues remain the most credible spokespeople, at 66 percent. -- Only 12 percent trust corporate or product advertising.