Well, this sounds like a stretch.
The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer is out, announcing that people around the world believe that work “only an institution that is considered competent and ethical.” As such, says the PR giant, business has emerged as an ethical force for good in a polarized world. And that, according to Edelman CEO Richard Edelman, means we’re now looking for CEOs who will be a leading voice on social issues.
Okay, let’s unpack this a bit.
The online poll, now in its 23rd year, usually kicks off the World Economic Forum in Davos with a set of statistics showing that government, business, media and NGOs are engaged in a race to the bottom when it comes to who is least trustworthy. (If you want to compare our opinion of CEOs with how they feel about the world, I’ve cited several recent studies in this article.)
Overall, the Edelman study found that 62% of 32,000 respondents in 28 countries said they trusted business. About 59% said they trust NGOs, which may not sound like a big difference to you, but puts them in what Edelman calls “neutral” territory. The government and media are with 51% and 50%, respectively. (Excuse me. Give us another chance.)
Technically, the top results look no different than they did a year ago; business technically advanced by one percentage point. But the devil is, of course, in the details and it is clear that countries with the most polarized politics pay a high price in terms of trust. If you add up the results, business is now 53 points ahead of government on competence and 30 points ahead on ethics.
The message: governments are failing to deliver.
Here in a country that took 15 rounds to vote on the speaker of the House of Representatives, it’s perhaps no surprise that the United States is right up there in Edelman’s “highly polarized” quadrant. This counts as a combination of perceived polarization and the belief that these divisions can be overcome. Argentina, Colombia, South Africa, Spain and Sweden are also in this category. (It’s worth noting that Saudi Arabia, China and India are the least polarized, according to this metric.)
Dig deeper into the US and you’ll find that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say our differences are insurmountable. Half of Republicans say the US is polarized and our attitudes are entrenched, compared to one-third of Democrats. Only 26% of Republicans trust the government, compared to 61% of Democrats, with an even wider gap for the media. Only 23% of Republicans think they will be better off in five years, while 48% of Democrats think so.
We could go on and on about the strange differences and what they all mean. What’s not surprising is that people are nervous about the economy and sick of divisive tactics to secure their jobs or vote.
CEOs, is this your moment to step up and be the moral beacon you always knew you could be? That’s what Edelman CEO Richard Edelman thinks. Trust gives leaders license to operate and influence the world. But it can also lead to inflated expectations that can be difficult to meet. Good luck.