People around the world are gloomier than ever before about their economic outlook and trust business much more than other institutions such as governments, nonprofits and the media in an increasingly divided world, according to a survey by public relations firm Edelman.
The online survey, conducted in 28 countries, published late Sunday to coincide with the World Economic Forum’s meeting of business elites and government leaders this week in Davos, Switzerland, shows that fewer people think their families have the upper hand. will be better in five years.
Those who think they are better off fell from 50% last year to 40%, reaching historic lows in 24 countries. That’s because 89% fear losing their jobs, 74% worry about inflation, 76% worry about climate change, and 72% worry about nuclear war.
The Edelman Trust Barometer also says that 62% of respondents view business as both competent and ethical, compared to 59% for non-governmental organizations, 51% for governments and 50% for the media. That was attributed to how companies treated workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and returned to offices, as well as many companies pledging to leave Russia after it invaded Ukraine.
People still said they distrusted CEOs as well as government leaders and journalists, while trusting their own business leaders, colleagues and neighbours. Scientists were most trusted – by 76% of respondents.
“Increased confidence in business brings higher expectations than ever before for CEOs to be a leading voice on social issues,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “By a margin of six to one, respondents want more corporate community involvement on issues such as climate change, economic inequality and workforce retraining.”
But companies are running into heated debate by plunging into those topics, with 52% saying companies can’t avoid politicization when tackling divisive social issues, he said.
Despite the uncertainty, people want companies to stand up for them: 63% say they buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values.
Most respondents believe companies should do more, not less, to address climate change, economic inequality and other issues.
This is because social divisions have become entrenched, creating a polarized world that has left people feeling unable to overcome their differences or even willing to help others who do not share their beliefs, the survey said.
Less than a third of respondents said they would help, live with, or work with someone who strongly disagreed with their views. Six countries – Argentina, Colombia, the US, South Africa, Spain and Sweden – were listed as severely polarized, driven by distrust in government and a lack of shared identity.
If divisions are not addressed, people fear the result will be worsening prejudice and discrimination, slower economic development and street violence, the report said.
More than 40% in the survey believe governments and businesses should work together to solve societal problems, with the most trusted institution – business – tasked with bringing people together.
Most respondents – 64% – said companies that support politicians and media outlets that build consensus would increase civility and strengthen society.
In its 23rd year, the Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed more than 32,000 people online in 28 countries from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to the US from November 1 to November 28.