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Trust is at rock bottom, and we must urgently restore it

For the past 20 years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has measured people’s trust in four key institutions – Government, Business, Media and NGOs. This year the firm conducted a Spring update to its January launch. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update: Trust and the Covid-19 Pandemic , conducted by Edelman Intelligence between April 15 and April 23, surveyed more than 13,200 respondents in 11 markets: Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, S. Korea, U.K. and U.S. The idea was to examine what impact the pandemic has had on trust in institutions, business and government leaders, experts and other organizations since January. The impact was substantial.


The coronavirus poses an extraordinary threat to global health and economic prosperity. It has also reaffirmed the lack of trust in our institutions by triggering financial market volatility and anger over slow or inadequate government responses.

Before COVID-19, many countries were enjoying strong economic performance and nearly full employment. The major societal institutions—government, business, media, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—should have been trusted. Instead, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer—published in January—showed that globally people do not trust any insti-tution to do what is right. The key to this paradox is the shifting dynamics of trust over the past 20 years.


In this period, five seismic events significantly altered people’s trust: concerns about globalization, the Iraq War, the global recession of 2008–09, the rise of China and India, and the advent of social networks. The second decade brought a trust divide between elites and the general population, alongside government failure to lead change. Disinformation and fear became rife.


COVID-19 is the new decade’s first jolt to the system. In this extraordinarily difficult moment, institutions have a duty to outperform expectations and rebuild public confidence. Most people want to resume listening to experts—who have been much maligned in recent times.


Government must demonstrate its competence in responding to the crisis. Media must be an objective arbiter of the facts. Business can provide necessary products and reliable information. NGOs must help develop a vaccine and ensure its fair distribution.

This is the time for institutions to work together, laying the groundwork for a new era of trust.

Richard Edelman is the CEO of Edelman, a global communications firm. This feature is based on Edelman's 2020 Trust Barometer and the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirus

Opinions expressed in articles and other materials are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.