Governments have squandered the surge in public trust they saw early in the Covid-19 pandemic, imperilling their chances of persuading their populations to get vaccinated, according to a 28-country survey showing that scepticism of official guidance is growing around the world.
Governments from Canada to South Korea enjoyed a spike in public trust between last January and May, the 33,000-person Edelman Trust Barometer found, but most of this has since evaporated as the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus worsened.
Businesses, non-governmental organisations and media outlets have also lost public confidence in most big markets, with China showing the steepest falls.
In 20 of the 28 countries Edelman surveyed, including the US, Germany and the UK, fewer than 70 per cent of respondents said they planned to get the Covid-19 vaccine within a year of it becoming available.
The challenge facing world leaders has been exacerbated by trust in all sources of information, from social media to news outlets, scraping new lows. Almost 60 per cent of respondents said they thought most news organisations were more concerned with supporting an ideology than with informing the public.
Richard Edelman, chief executive of the public relations firm that has conducted the survey for over 20 years, said it showed double-digit gaps in trust between the most informed citizens and the wider population in 21 of the 28 countries surveyed.
“This is the era of information bankruptcy,,” he told the Financial Times, speaking of the plunging trust in media and scientific authorities. “Business is focused on the pandemic and missing the ‘infodemic’ part,” he warned.
Those polled were more likely to believe information from their employer than from their government or any media source. And although 73 per cent of respondents expressed trust in scientists — compared to 48 per cent for chief executives, 45 per cent for journalists and 41 per cent for government leaders — this figure had dropped by 7 percentage points from a year ago.
The findings suggested that companies had a mandate to educate employees on different vaccine options, Mr Edelman said, but he warned that efforts to mandate vaccinations in workplaces would prompt a backlash.
The past year has also seen a further erosion of trust in brands based in some of the largest global markets.
When asked how much they trusted global companies headquartered in specific countries, just 48 per cent said they trusted US companies to do what is right and 56 per cent said the same of UK companies — down 3 points and 5 points respectively since a year earlier. Almost two-thirds of respondents expressed trust in German companies but only a third said the same of businesses based in China.
Edelman’s post-election poll of 1,500 Americans in mid-December found that trust in US institutions had fallen further since November, driven by double-digit declines in Republicans’ levels of trust in government, the media and NGOs.
The survey underscored the ever starker differences between the two parties’ supporters, with 61 per cent of Joe Biden voters expressing trust in journalists, compared with just 21 per cent of Donald Trump’s supporters. While 75 per cent of Democrats trust national health authorities, only 40 per cent of Republicans say the same.