Report: The Nature of Public Trust in 2018

A new report from the public relations giant Edelman finds that trust in institutions, including nonprofits, is seeing a sharp decline in the U.S. The report makes the case that to break through, now might be a time to focus on the individual voice.

In the era of fake news, trust in our institutions—whether government, corporate, or nonprofit—is struggling. What does that mean for your organization?

A new report from PR conglomerate Edelman, the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report [PDF], found a staggering decline in trust in the U.S. from the 2017 edition among the informed public, falling 23 points. It fell nine points among the general population.

“The U.S. is enduring the worst collapse ever recorded in the history of the Edelman Trust Barometer,” President and CEO Richard Edelman wrote in a summary of the report.

Americans’ trust in the government as a whole saw the deepest decline—30 points among the informed public and 14 points among the general population—but drops were also significant for the other three categories of organizations Edelman focused on in the survey: NGOs, business, and the media.

“The uncertainty of the moment is palpable. The public is fearful, and trust is disturbingly low,” a commentary piece for the “America in Crisis” report stated. “In this context, leadership is desperately sought and opportunities to step up are clear, starting with a new commitment to advancing a shared understanding of the truth, and a determination to stand tall in addressing the fears of Americans.”

Globally, the picture wasn’t great, with trust modestly dropping among the informed public and slightly rising among the general population. However, that contrasted sharply with two of the world’s most powerful countries: The U.S., which among the informed public came in dead last among the 28 countries surveyed by Edelman, and China, which showed marked increases in trust.

While declines were sharp—14 of the 28 markets reported declining trust in NGOs in this year’s report—there were some positive notes for nonprofits. According to the report, just 4 percent of U.S. respondents considered NGOs the “most broken” institution, compared with 59 percent for government and 21 percent for the media. Additionally, the report found that 29 percent of respondents considered NGOs the most likely path for a better future, better than any of the other categories.

One factor behind lagging trust numbers, per Edelman’s report, was the rise of fake news or falsified information, which nearly 70 percent of respondents worried could be used as a weapon. This issue most seriously affected how the public viewed the media, though respondents tended to be harder on social media platforms than journalists, who saw a 5 percent increase in trust globally.

The report makes the case that organizations are struggling with trust, but individuals like journalists and thought leaders have the potential to break through.

“With truth no longer self-evident, it must be made more discoverable,” Edelman Chief Content Strategist Steve Rubel wrote. “Journalists, employees, and new voices of influence all have a role to play in filling this information void.”

View the full Trust Barometer report, complete with commentary, on the Edelman website.

(olm26250/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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