Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

This morning I had the opportunity to attend the presentation at the Davos forum of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2023.

First, Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, presented the key findings. Then journalist Thorold Parker, from the Wall Street Journal, moderated a thought-provoking roundtable with Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com group; David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee and former British foreign minister; Lorenzo Simonelli, chairman of Baker Hughes; Hanneke Faber, president of the nutrition business of Unilever, and Yoshito Hori, president and founder of Globis Capital Partners. 

The report, in which 32,000 people from 28 countries participated, paints a complex picture in which the following changes to past editions stand out:

Economic optimism plummets.

On average, only four out of ten surveyed people (one out of four in Spain) agree with the statement my family and I will be better off in 5 years. Moreover, 24 of the 28 countries analyzed are at historical lows regarding this question. People feel fear. And the thing that most people are worried about is losing their job (89%), followed by climate change (76%), inflation (74%), a nuclear war (72%), food scarcity (67%), and energy scarcity (66%). This “ranking of fears” reveals how much things have changed in twelve months. Although last year the fear of losing one’s job (85%) and climate change (75%) also led the list, the other things that people were more afraid of were different: cybersecurity (71%), losing freedoms as citizens (65%), and suffering prejudice or racism (57%).

Companies are the only institution seen as both competent and ethical.

Globally, 62% of surveyed people trust companies, 59% trust NGOs, 51% trust governments, and 50% trust the media. Concerning this question, it is worth highlighting the significant improvement in the evaluation people make of the ethics of companies, which is probably a reflection of the increasingly growing concern that companies show for environmental, social, and good governance issues (ESG). Companies are the only institution seen as competent and ethical. In Spain, however, the picture is slightly different. The institutions that more people trust are NGOs (53%), followed by businesses (49%), media (38%), and government (36%).

About this difference that is generally observed between the trust that citizens have in businesses and that they have in governments, it is noteworthy that the percentage of surveyed people who see governments as a source of false or misleading information (46%) is higher than those who consider them a reliable source of information (39%). It contrasts with what we observe concerning businesses, which 48% of people regard as a reliable source of information, while 30% perceive them as a source of false or misleading information.

Higher-income people tend to show more trust in institutions.

Globally, there is a significant gap between the trust in institutions shown by people in the top income quartile (64%) and those in the bottom quartile (49%). Thailand (with a 37-point difference between both groups), the United States (23 points), Saudi Arabia (20 points), China, and Japan (19 points) are the countries with the greater income-based inequality.

In Spain, the difference is not as big, only 9 points which we could interpret as good news. Unfortunately, this is because both groups show little trust in institutions (49% in the top quartile compared to 40% in the bottom quartile).

A lack of trust in institutions favors the polarization of societies.

The report also warns us of the risk of a dangerous vicious circle. The lack of trust in institutions favors the polarization of societies, which, in turn, contributes to further reducing the trust citizens have in institutions.

In 15 of the 28 analyzed countries, more than half of the surveyed people think they are more divided today than in the past (53% in Spain). Among the groups that most people identify as forces that pull people apart are the rich and powerful (62%), hostile foreign governments (61%), government leaders (49%), and journalists (43%). On the other side, among the groups that act as a unifying force, teachers (64%), NGO leaders (46%), and business leaders (41%) stand out.

People expect more from companies.

More specifically, they expect more from their employers. In this sense, it is significant that while 62% of surveyed people trust companies in general, this percentage increases to 77% when asked about the companies where they work.

However, a significant percentage of surveyed people think that companies do not do enough about societal issues such as climate change (53%), economic inequalities (50%), energy scarcity (50%), access to healthcare (47%), information reliability (45%), or worker reskilling (44%).

Furthermore, surveyed people expect CEOs of companies to publicly take a stand on issues such as worker treatment (89%), climate change (82%), discrimination (80%), economic inequalities (77%), and immigration (72%). They also believe that CEOs are obligated to pay fair salaries (84%), ensure the prosperity and safety of their home community (79%), contribute corporate taxes (78%), and train their employees (78%).

What we need is action.

Yet, the majority of surveyed people (41%) recognize that to get the best results in facing challenges such as climate change, discrimination, immigration, worker treatment, and economic inequalities, companies and governments need to collaborate and work together. This figure compares to 21% who believe that the best approach is letting both actors work separately, 16% who prefer to leave these challenges only in the hands of governments, and 10% who consider that the best way to get good results is to leave them only in the hands of companies.

In summary, Edelman’s 2023 trust barometer reveals a complex scenario that requires decisive actions from all parties involved to repair the social fabric. They need to defend the truth (which includes speaking out uneasy truths), think long-term, and ensure that burdens are fairly distributed. And, as David Miliband pointed out, understanding that we cannot face global risks by only taking care of the resilience of our local systems.

An article by
Santi Garcia