The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update: Trust and the Covid-19 Pandemic reveals a remarkable shift in the landscape of trust since January. The Spring Update shows that amid the Covid-19 pandemic, government trust surged 11 points to an all-time high of 65 percent, making it the most trusted institution for the first time in our 20 years of study.
Despite a four-point increase in trust in business and several high-profile actions taken by companies and CEOs to help those in need, there is marked disappointment in how the private sector has performed during the crisis. This is a moment of reckoning for business, which must now deliver on the promise of stakeholder capitalism.
A Shift in Trust: Government Takes the Lead
Since 2011, government had languished in distrust globally, as gridlock in the EU over Greek debt and several corruption scandals in developing nations eroded trust. The Spring Update shows a striking comeback for government: at 65 percent trust (+11 points since January), the public is relying on government to protect them in a manner not seen since World War II. Trust in government is not only up by double digits in six of 11 markets surveyed, it is the only institution trusted by the mass population (62 percent).
During an unprecedented time when government response at all levels could mean the difference between life and death, the public is placing its faith in government to lead the fight against the virus. In fact, respondents want government out front in all areas of the pandemic response: to provide economic relief (86 percent), to get the country back to normal (79 percent), to contain Covid-19 (73 percent), and to inform the public (72 percent).
Despite the high trust in government, the pandemic appears to have cast a spotlight on systemic inequity. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer in January showed that a growing sense of unfairness in the system was driving distrust across institutions. The Spring Update shows that 67 percent of respondents believe that those with less education, less money and fewer resources are bearing a disproportionate burden of the suffering, risk of illness and need to sacrifice in the pandemic, and more than half are very worried about long-term, Covid-related job loss.
A Vital Role for Media and NGOs
The search for reliable information related to the pandemic has driven trust in news sources to an all-time high. Traditional media (+7 points) and owned media (+8) saw the biggest gains. Despite these high levels of trust in news sources, there is an urgent need for credible and unbiased journalism. Concerns about fake news still loom large, with 67 percent of respondents worried about false and inaccurate information being spread about the virus.
There is a strong public demand for expert voices, as people want to hear from the most trusted sources of information on the pandemic: doctors (80 percent), scientists (79 percent) and national health officials (71 percent).
NGOs, which saw a four-point uptick in trust, are nevertheless under pressure to step up: to take care of people who are suffering, to raise money for pandemic relief and to help coordinate local efforts to support the most vulnerable members of our communities. Respondents in seven of the 11 markets surveyed believe their local NGOs are not prepared to deal with the crisis, including Germany, the U.S. and Canada.
Moment of Reckoning for Business
While business saw a four-point uptick in trust to 62 percent, the pandemic has exposed several areas of deep concern: Half of people believe business is doing poorly, mediocre or completely failing at putting people before profits; only 43 percent believe that companies are protecting their employees sufficiently from Covid-19, and 46 percent do not believe business is helping smaller suppliers and business customers stay afloat. In addition:
- Only 38 percent believe business is doing well or very well at putting people before profits
- Only 39 percent believe business is doing well or very well at protecting their employees' financial wellbeing and safeguarding their jobs
- Only 38 percent believe business is doing well or very well at helping their smaller suppliers and business customers stay in business by extending them credit or giving them more time to pay
The poor performance of business during the Covid-19 crisis is further seen in the lackluster assessment of CEOs. Fewer than one in three respondents (29 percent) believe CEOs are doing an outstanding job responding to demands on them placed by the pandemic as compared to scientists (53 percent) and government leaders (45 percent). To increase trust, business should focus on solutions, not selling, with respondents calling for the private sector to collaborate with competitors, redefine their company’s purpose and goals around fighting the pandemic, and switching production of what they currently make to masks, respirators, and other items in short supply due to the crisis.
Business is being called upon to demonstrate both its ability and integrity—the key building blocks of trust. As the focus shifts to reopening the economy, business should leave the back seat it has taken to government the past three months and join government in charting the path forward.
Towards a new normal
The public wants to see a vibrant partnership between government and business in getting people back to work and revitalizing the economy. Health and safety is paramount. More than two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) want saving lives prioritized over saving jobs, and 75 percent say CEOs should be cautious in getting their companies back to normal even if it means waiting longer to reopen workplaces.
Above all, it is CEOs who must demonstrate public leadership and show that business is ready to live up to the promise of stakeholder capitalism. Business must take on automation-related job loss with upskilling and retraining, price products affordably to address inequity and unemployment, make supply chains sustainable and inclusive of small business, and be a source of factual, unbiased information for their employees to share out with the community.
Despite the twin health and economic crises, people are strikingly optimistic that long-term, positive change will emerge. More than two-thirds of respondents say they believe the pandemic will result in valuable innovations and improvements in how we work, live, and treat each other. It’s now up to the four institutions—government, business, media, and NGOs—to deliver on expectations and build a more resilient system for the future.
About The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update:
Trust and the Covid-19 Pandemic
The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update: Trust and the Covid-19 Pandemic is an update to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer. The survey was conducted by Edelman Intelligence between April 15 and April 23, and sampled more than 13,200 respondents in 11 markets: Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, S. Korea, U.K. and U.S. 1,200 people were surveyed in each market, 100 of which were informed public. All informed public respondents met the following criteria: aged 25-64, 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.
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