People placing trust in institutions — and each other — is critical to our society flourishing. When people are filled with mistrust, they spend money differently (or not at all), facts are doubted, and anxiety is high.
And, worryingly, there has been a decline in trust over the past five decades.
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer provides a window into where we stand. Edelman has been releasing this report since 2001, digging into people’s perceptions of trust in their countries and institutions, and what factors may influence that trust.
Trust is measured with a “trust index” score given to each country, which is simply the average percentage of people who agree to the question, “Please indicate how much you trust that institution to do what is right.”
In 2018, the United States had a trust score of 43 and was ranked 18th among 36 countries measured. The score increased to 49 in 2019, moving the U.S. ranking up to 12th. In 2022, the U.S. dropped back down to a 43 — but, shockingly, ranked 24th. While other countries found ways to increase trust in their people, the U.S. fell behind.
Among the institutions of business, media and government, business has slowly built up more trust among people over time, while media and government have lost it. Across all countries surveyed, business has outpaced the field.
The industry with the highest trust score is the technology sector. Family-owned businesses are more trusted, followed by privately held ones. And people rate their own employer highly. Sixty-one percent of people surveyed trust businesses, but 77% trust their employer. Social network theory may give us some insight into this. According to this theory, people trust those inside their social network more than those outside.
An interesting wrinkle in this latest data shows 76% of respondents agreed with the statement, “I worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon.” That part of the data suggests being informed is one way to bridge the trust gap (“Well informed” is defined by how many different places people get information and how well they follow current events and news).
That means there may be ways to increase trust. If we know that people in the survey are more likely to trust their employer or their neighbor, we can start there.
During the pandemic, my family and I spent more time outdoors, and, unsurprisingly, we met more neighbors with whom we became friends These neighbors are now the people I turn to with some of my biggest life decisions and worries.
They were squarely outside of my network less than two years ago. The same is true at work. In the pandemic’s early days, I was forced to have more intentional interactions with my co-workers because I didn’t see them in the hall or outside a conference room anymore.
Colleagues who I’d previously only communicated with head nods and occasional small talk now became lifelines as we checked in on each other, and I got a sneak peek inside their homes of their pets, their new décor choices, and their families.
They became a degree closer in my network.
So, if we know people who are well-informed have higher levels of trust, we can work to get quality, trustworthy information to more people. Larger employers might consider subscribing to news sources for their employees, and where there is no budget for that, companies can still create a culture of information sharing. This has the added benefit of helping employees expand their networks of trusted individuals.
But this doesn’t just rest on the shoulders of businesses. We can all continue to grow our networks with diverse and interesting people who we can commit to sharing widely with. Individuals also can check information before spreading it, at places such as the Annenberg’s Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions infographic on spotting fake news.
It’s healthy to ask questions about the information we receive and the source of data. For example, I have more questions about the Edelman Trust Barometer’s sampling methods. But, if we accept the limits of surveys in general, we have a lot to learn here. Most importantly, we might be able to learn how to start rebuilding trust in our institutions.
Editor’s note: Eva Chiang is managing director of leadership and programming at the George W. Bush Institute. This essay is adapted from an original version in The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.