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The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals business, government and media standings—uncovering a new culprit threatening trust: innovation

by | Jan 22, 2024 | Public Relations

Considered one of the most reliable measures of the state of brand and institutional reputation, the Edelman Trust Barometer uncovers the top challenges and issues organizations face on an annual basis, and the comms giant’s analysis consistently reveals the central areas of focus for providing what consumers are increasingly looking for at the core of their business relationships and engagements—the peace of mind to know their interactions (including transactions) are safe and secure, and to know they can rely on the brand using its power and influence to serve the greater good. But earning trust is only getting harder.

Like last year, the institution of business remains most trusted, compared to government and media in 2024

But the 24th annual study sheds light on an unexpected trust obstacle—business and institutional innovation. The Edleman research points to a rift between innovation and society that has become the new factor causing further polarization. In the firm’s survey of more than 32,000 global respondents, the feeling that innovation is being poorly managed was relayed by nearly a two-to-one margin—and this is true across age groups, income levels, and gender, and in both developed and developing countries; people are more likely to say innovation is poorly managed than well managed. 

Innovation has also become politicized, especially in Western democracies where right-leaning individuals are far more likely than those on the left to reject them. The biggest differences between those on the right and left are in the U.S. (41 points), Australia (23 points), Germany (20 points), and Canada (18 points).

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals business, government and media standings—uncovering a new culprit threatening trust: innovation

Published every January, the report covers a range of timely and important societal indicators of trust among business, media, government and NGOs, shaping conversation and setting the agenda for the year ahead.

“Innovation is accelerating and should be a growth enabler, but it will be stymied if business doesn’t pay as much attention to acceptance as it does research and development,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, in a news release. “More than two-thirds of our respondents who say innovation is poorly managed believe society is changing too quickly and not in ways that benefit ‘people like me’ (69 percent). The mass-class divide, the huge imbalance in trust between business and government and the infodemic have been the forces behind the decline in trust and the rise of polarization. Fear of innovation has now become the fourth log on the populism fire.”

Business has the best opportunity to reverse this trend because it is the most trusted institution

This is true both in general, and when it comes to introducing new innovations into society. But companies must focus on explaining the impact of innovation and its net positive for society, and not just investors. 

But business can’t act alone. Over the last decade, the Trust Barometer has seen a 15-point increase (45 percent to 60 percent) in people saying that if business partners with government, they would trust it more with technology-led changes. Nearly two-thirds expect CEOs to manage changes occurring in society, not just those occurring in their business (62 percent), and around 8 in 10 employees say it’s important for their CEO to speak publicly about job skills of the future (82 percent), the ethical use of technology (79 percent) and automation’s impact on jobs (78 percent).

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals business, government and media standings—uncovering a new culprit threatening trust: innovation

Many believe that science is losing its independence: to Government, funders, and the political process

In the U.S., two thirds believe science has become politicized (67 percent) and in China, three quarters of respondents say that government and organizations that fund research have too much influence on how science is done (75 percent). When people feel that innovation is poorly managed, they are more likely to say that the system is biased in favor of the rich than those who feel innovation is managed well (82 percent vs 53 percent). This has led to a dispersion of authority, where people view “someone like me” (74 percent) on par with scientists and experts (74 percent) in terms of who they can trust to tell them the truth about new innovations and technologies.

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals business, government and media standings—uncovering a new culprit threatening trust: innovation

“Against the backdrop of the biggest global election year in history with more than 50 elections slated to take place, trust is under siege from a number of forces,” said Kirsty Graham, president of global practices and sectors at Edelman, in the release. “Concern over the impacts of innovation and those driving it have led to greater suspicion of economic and political systems. Institutions must work together to help address these concerns to allow a pathway for continued innovation and progress.”

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals business, government and media standings—uncovering a new culprit threatening trust: innovation

Other key findings include:

  • The UK (39) is among the least trusting countries, according to the Trust Index, and none of the other G7 countries are trusting: Canada (53); Italy (50); France (47) U.S. (46); Germany (45); Japan (39).
  • Fear of an information war (61 percent) jumped by six points from last year, the biggest increase among societal fears. The report also reveals an increase in the belief that societal leaders, including journalists (64 percent), government leaders (63 percent), and business leaders (61 percent), are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false.
  • Government (51 percent) is now distrusted in 17 of the 28 countries surveyed, including the U.S. (40 percent), Germany (42 percent) and the UK (30 percent, down 7 points). Media (50 percent) remains the least trusted institution globally and is distrusted in 15 of 28 countries including the U.S. (39 percent), Japan (33 percent), and the UK (31 percent, down 6 points).
  • Trust remains local, with ‘My employer’ (79 percent trust among employees) once again the most trusted institution and trusted in every country surveyed aside from South Korea (49 percent). ‘My CEO’ (69 percent trust among employees) is also more trusted than CEOs in general (51 percent).
  • Government leaders (42 percent) are among the least trusted societal leaders, with journalists (49 percent) and CEOs (51 percent) only slightly more trusted. Scientists (77 percent), teachers (74 percent), ‘my CEO’ (69 percent among employees), citizens of ‘my country’ (63 percent) and ‘my neighbors’ (62 percent) are trusted.
  • The report finds huge gaps between trust in the businesses that make up industry sectors and industry innovations, including a 26-point gap between trust in businesses in the Technology sector (76 percent) vs. trust in AI (50 percent); a 23-point gap between trust in businesses in the Healthcare sector (73 percent) vs. trust in gene-based medicine (50 percent); and a 40-point gap between trust in businesses in the Food & Beverage sector (72 percent) vs. trust in GMO foods (32 percent).
  • Over the last 10 years, trust has declined significantly in companies headquartered in the largest exporting nations, including China (from 2014 to 2024, down 3 points to 30 percent); the U.S. (down 9 points to 53 percent); and Germany (down 9 points to 62 percent). Even with a nine-point decline over the past decade, Germany (62 percent trust) remains the second most trusted foreign brand behind Canada (64 percent). Brand China (30 percent) remains among the least trusted along with India (32 percent).

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals business, government and media standings—uncovering a new culprit threatening trust: innovation

Explore the full report here.

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer is the firm’s 24th annual trust and credibility survey. The research was produced by the Edelman Trust Institute and consisted of 30-minute online interviews conducted between November 3 and November 22, 2023. The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled more than 32,000 respondents across 28 countries.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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