Trump popularity linked to 'mass dissatisfaction'

The rise of populism in U.S. politics is a direct result of a growing disparity in trust between the vast majority of the population and the global elite, public relations executive Richard Edelman told CNBC on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

This gap in trust between the "informed public" — college-educated professionals with a household income in the top 25 percent for their age in their country — and the general population is now the largest ever, his eponymous communications marketing firm has found.

"Donald Trump is a clear result of this mass population's dissatisfaction with the current crop of candidates," Edelman said. He believes Trump is a serious candidate, but he's also convinced that voters with less conservative views will eventually rise up and speak out against the candidate for the Republican nomination.

Trump's popularity was directly linked to "mass dissatisfaction with how they are being talked to," Edelman said.

The firm, which carries out a survey every year measuring levels of trust, linked the gulf directly to income inequality and "divergent expectations of the future."

In more than two-thirds of the nations surveyed, fewer than half of the respondents said they believe they will be better off in five years.

The general population has greater trust in business than government in 21 of 28 countries. For the 16th consecutive year, technology was the most trusted industry.

Trust in CEOs has risen substantially in the past five years to 48 percent, although the general population was skeptical of business, along with government, nongovernmental organizations and the media.

"I think Richard Edelman's trust barometer reflects an extraordinary truth about the fact that we have got too many CEOs paying attention to what shareholders want in the short term; too many CEOs paying attention to what is going to make the share price perform in the short term," Blackstone Vice Chairman John Studzinski told CNBC on Wednesday at Davos.

The investment banker concurred with Edelman's assertion that executives should speak out and act on issues of public concern like the environment, unemployment and youth unemployment.

"People want leaders that are empathetic with what's going on with society. They want businesses that are not going to be only profitable, but beneficial to society, and right now it is not clear to a lot of people that all businesses are both profitable and beneficial to society," Studzinski said.

Paul Polman of Unilever, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Cyrus Mistry of Tata Group and Jack Ma of Alibaba were praised by Edelman for speaking out on issues like climate change and inclusion.