Study Shows That People Trust Businesses More Than Government


According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, more people trust businesses than trust the government or media.

Business is more credible than government or media in 13 of the 18 countries surveyed in 2007. The survey also found that more respondents in 16 of 18 countries felt that companies have more of a positive impact on society than a negative impact.

In the United States, 53% of respondents report trusting business, which marks an all-time high for the survey. This is a recovery from a low of 44% in 2002, which came in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom debacles. In the three largest economies of Western Europe, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, trust in business stands at 34%, which is higher than trust in media and government at 25% and 22% respectively. The 2007 survey marks the lowest levels ever of trust in government across these three European countries.

Pretty dismal numbers all around really, but I think the reason people trust businesses most is that they are more accountable than government or media. If you don't serve your customers then you don't get to stay around. Businesses have to show results. Governments just have to show rhetoric.

  • I wonder what’s the score for countries like India.

  • With the way business is portrayed in the media it is small wonder that business is not trusted. Even our humor (e.g., Dilbert) paints a poor picture. Hollywood is certainly no friend of business either. So the question is: are the 46% that don’t trust business swayed by that onslaught or do they work for companies that they know are dishonest?

  • This is a fascinating story, I urge readers to click through to the underlying study (the India answer is there, as is China being one of the only two where government outranks business).

    One of the major findings is that “a person like me” is consistently one of the top two types that people trust. It underscores the inherent personal-ness of trust. All institutions of necessity will rank lower than personal relationships.

    I have found in my work with trust that the most obvious hypothesis is the best one. The biggest reason people don’t trust government or business, either one, is that they simply find them untrustworthy. People are not dumb. Do not reject the obvious hypothesis. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy.

    This is where government is at a double disadvantage. First, any democratic government is inextricably entwined in politics. And politics is the art of enacting the majority desires at the least cost to the minorities–on issue after issue, all the time. This means a politician has a hard time speaking “the truth,” because “the truth” is different for nearly all.

    Of course, politicians usually make it worse yet. “Read my lips,” “It depends on the meaning of the word ‘is'”, and so on. Robert S. MacNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Vietnam era, said, “never answer the question the press answers you; answer the question you wanted them to ask.”

    Good politics? Perhaps so. Good trust-creating behavior? No way.

    Itnerestingly, one of the highest-trust government ratings in the survey was China–a non-democratic government.

    Within business, I find far too many companies thinking that their low trust ratings are a job for the PR department to fix.

    If you think your trust problem is a PR problem, then right off the bat you can’t be trusted. Worse yet, the PR department will likely come up with ad campaigns that basically say, “trust us,” which of course further ensures that we don’t.

    The single simplest we to be trusted is to be trustworthy. How to do that? Don’t lie; tell more truth; do what you say you’ll do; and biggest of all, don’t think of your customer and employees as abstract assets to increase your quarterly return over capital and strategic compettiive advantage–treat them like people. Do that, and they will trust you, and–paradoxically–your bottom line will improve too. But only if your motives are clean.

  • Charles Green is so right. And there is a solid evidence to prove that trust increases profits. It’s not smart business to be deceptive or opportunistic. Good managers (or marketers) are not liars.