Public trust plummets in U.S. but booms in China - survey

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  1. Media is least-trusted sector
  2. 'Experts' are recovering reputation

Public trust in U.S. government, media, and other institutions plunged during the first year of Donald J. Trump’s controversial presidency, according to new research.

Edelman, a global public relations firm, said that U.S. public confidence suffered the biggest fall since the group began its annual study of attitudes in 2001.

The “annual barometer,” released January 21, surveyed 1,150 people in 28 countries, with more than 33,000 responses. It then broke their answers down by sector, and whether the respondent is considered a “general” or “informed” member of the public.

Among the “informed public” of the U.S. survey, trust fell to the bottom of the global rankings.

Overall, the U.S. general public gave their institutions 43 out of 100 on the “trust index” – a nine-point drop on 2017, the year when Edelman said trust was “in crisis” around the world.

Trust in China rose the most, increasing seven points among the general population.

Last year’s barometer found that Americans’ trust in the media was at an all-time low, and that distrust in media and government had been a core theme of the 2016 election, with both much higher among Trump voters than supporters of his rival Hillary Clinton.

Edelman’s Tonia Ries told WikiTribune that the purpose of separating “informed” from general public is to find “opinion leaders”.

Apparently arbitrary distinctions such as college education, age, and being in a high-income bracket are useful parameters to find members of the population who are likely to be in a position to influence others, she said.

Ries admitted that “the rise of social platforms led to a dispersion of authority and a shift of influence to peer voices,” but keeping the same research parameters to those used when the study was established in 2000 means the results can better demonstrate global trends and changes.

President Trump has regularly been accused of stoking distrust in the media. On January 17, he named the recipients of the “Fake News Awards,” sarcastic accolades for allegedly dishonest reporting about his government.

Barometer-in-brief

As in the 2017 barometer, trust and distrust in the media was split among party lines, with a 34-point difference between Trump voters, 27 percent of whom trust the media, compared with Clinton voters, whose trust in media reached 61 percent.

Globally, the media was found to be the least trusted of the sectors surveyed, ranking lower than government, business, and NGOs.

However, while trust in media “platforms” broadly declined, trust in “journalism” enjoyed a boost, rising five points.

This fitted with a broader pattern globally, with participants appearing to become more discerning in who they pay attention to. Journalists recovered 12 percentage points across the general population from 2017, but “experts” generally all rose across the world. People said they were less likely to trust laymen, or people they considered as informed as themselves.

While 63 percent said they do not know how to tell good journalism from “fake news,” 59 percent said it is becoming harder to tell the difference.

Finally, the report recommends that countries where trust fell dramatically, such as the U.S., India, Colombia, and Brazil, should “guard information quality” and “drive economic prosperity” to reignite public trust.

Edelman CEO Richard Edelman will present the results of the study at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 21.

Polling group Pew released similar research on January 18, finding that there is a global consensus that media should not favor one political party over another. Pew’s research found that partisanship was the biggest problem most people have with their media.

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