“There is a crisis of trust and rise of prejudice around the world. Deference is dead and everywhere the elites and mainstream media are challenged by an angry populace.”
We decided to write this report because we wanted to test if this prevailing narrative matched the data. The ‘truth about trust’ is that trust is complex, and takes many forms (many of these forms are not in crisis or decline). Without some degree of trust society simply would not function.
That is not to say that there is not a problem – there is – but it is not new, nor is trust in terminal decline. We dissect it in detail in this report. That we are worried about it is in itself telling us something, but our concern is out of step with reality: in recent years, in many international surveys trends in social trust have been flat or rising. There has been a historic decline in trust in government since the 1960s, but it is not new or as dramatic as media coverage suggests. In the UK trust in experts has risen over the last few decades. Trust in politicians is low – but it always has been. Trust in other people has changed little in the last 20 years in both Britain and America.
The obsession with trust, the hand-wringing at Davos and elsewhere, reflects a trend we call the ‘Crisis of the Elites’.1 Unlike a crisis in trust, it is fair to say that elites do feel under more scrutiny than ever. They are attacked by populists all over the world – even when the populist politicians are often from the elite themselves.
Trying to be dispassionate, and empirical, and reviewing all the time series we can find, this report highlights that trust does not appear to be in terminal decline but is often lower than half a century ago. We find that a much more nuanced conversation has to be had – less about trust per se, and more about what organisations and individuals need to do to be ‘trustworthy’ in a particular context. There is a lot of painstaking work to be done, but trust can be rebuilt.
Chief Executive, Ipsos MORI