Trust in government on the rise, says 2019 Edelman survey

By David Donaldson

January 29, 2019

Australians’ trust in government has grown more quickly than most countries this year, bucking a recent downward trend.

The decline of public trust in government has become one of the key preoccupations of the public service world in the past couple of years.

With Brexit and Trump dominating headlines, it’s not hard to see why.

Indeed, Australians’ trust in government fell in both 2017 and 2018, according to the most commonly cited measure, the Edelman Trust Barometer.

But reports of the death of trust have been greatly exaggerated, with this year’s barometer showing a significant increase.

Australia’s trust in government score rose 7 points this year to 42. Men (45) are more likely to say they trust government than women (39).

Exceeding the trend

Australia’s jump in trust exceeds the trend this year, with a slight bump across the countries surveyed bringing the average to 47.

It’s not clear what prompted Australians’ faith in government, with the feds struggling to keep themselves together and the economic outlook appearing shakier than in previous years.

Australia appears to be fairly pessimistic about its economic future, with Australians ranking low on belief that they and their family will be better off in five years — though the ranks of the optimistic are dominated by fast-growing developing countries.

Perhaps cynicism about fake news and elites is wearing off after the political earthquakes of 2016. Or perhaps it’s nothing in particular.

“Australia’s trust in government score rose 7 points this year to 42. Men (45) are more likely to say they trust government than women (39).”

Despite the increase, Australia still sits in the group of countries deemed to be distrustful, equalling the United Kingdom and placing just above the United States.

A cross-country comparison shows something curious, however: at the top of the scale sit the authoritarian China (86) and United Arab Emirates (82).

The world clearly hasn’t left populism behind, with Italy (+16) and Brazil (+10) seeing spikes in trust in government after electing right-wing populists. Malaysians also saw a big jump (+14) following the country’s first ever democratic transfer of power.

And speaking of elites, the survey finds members of the “informed public” — high earners with a university degree who engage with media and public policy — tend to be more trusting than the “mass public”, with Australia having one of the highest gaps between the two.

Interestingly, Edelman found high trust in “my employer” across many countries, with the average score globally significantly higher than for government, media, NGOs or business. Australia’s score of 77 placed it slightly above average on this measure.

Trust in media has risen, though it remains the least trusted institution in the country. Australia saw one of the largest increases among the 26 countries surveyed, rising 9 points to a score of 40. Again, this puts Australia in the ‘distrusted’ category, and well below high-trust China, where the media is dominated by state mouthpieces.

Trust in NGOs has risen 8 points to 56, placing Australia somewhere in the middle of the pack. Trust in business rose 7 points to 52, again around the average across countries surveyed.

Australia also placed near the middle on trust in the United Nations.

And in case you’re wondering, we aren’t particularly keen on the European Union, with Australians’ trust in the intergovernmental organisation scoring 43 — equal to those notorious Eurosceptics in the UK.

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