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Trust in governments surges during pandemic but people are disappointed with CEO performance

A group of flags of many different nations against blue sky.
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People are putting their faith in governments around the world to do the right thing during the coronavirus pandemic, while chief executives are failing to demonstrate leadership, according to a new report.

Governments are now more trusted than businesses, non-profits and the media, according to consultancy Edelman's Trust Barometer report, which surveyed more than 13,000 people in 11 countries including the U.S., U.K., India and China and was released Tuesday. This contrasts with Edelman's January survey, which had business as the most trusted institution and government and the media tied as the least.

While there has been a record rise in trust in the governments of the countries surveyed, some gaps are emerging. Of those surveyed in the U.S., 46% said they trusted the federal government to "do what is right," but the figure was much higher when people were asked about local government, at 66%. The U.S. has the largest trust gap between federal and local government of the countries surveyed, followed by Japan and France.

"Faced with one of the biggest health and financial crises in history, people are turning to their governments for leadership and hope," said Edelman CEO Richard Edelman, in an emailed statement.

"The speed and scale of the lockdowns, the brave performance of the public health services and the extent of public expenditure to support the private sector have shown government taking quick decisive action. This is a stunning turnaround for government which has always languished at or near the bottom of the trust hierarchy," he added.

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But when it comes to how CEOs have dealt with the pandemic, people are disappointed. Only 29% believe business leaders are doing an "outstanding" job of handling the crisis, with national government leaders scoring 47% and scientists 53%.

And despite companies such as Apple and Tesla pledging to donate masks and ventilators, half of those surveyed felt that businesses in general were putting people before profits, and many believed they were doing a poor job of protecting workers or customers (41%).

"Now it's time for business to sprint to the front of the pack as the focus shifts to reopening the economy. This is a moment of reckoning for business and the promise of a stakeholder approach must now be delivered by filling their supply chains with small businesses and the retaining and reskilling of workers," Edelman stated.

Respondents are also cautious about the return to work once lockdowns are lifted, with 75% believing that CEOs should be cautious about getting back to normal operations.

Citizens are also willing to share more of their health and location data with governments to help track and contain the virus, with those in China most eager to do so (91%), followed by India at 78%. China launched a "close contact detector" in February, while India released its Aarogya Setu app last month.

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In the U.S., where Apple and Google have worked together on "exposure notification" software, half those surveyed would be willing to provide their information. In the U.K., where a contact tracing app is set to be launched this month, 59% of survey respondents said they would be willing to share more data with the government.

People are also concerned about fake news, with 67% worrying about the spread of false information about the virus. People in China are most concerned about this (76%), with the Chinese foreign ministry last week denying claims of spreading disinformation after a European Union report found "significant evidence" of covert operations on social media.

Nearly half (47%) of Americans said it has been difficult to find reliable information about the virus, reflecting President Donald Trump's propensity for walking back on remarks, such as comments over the number of daily coronavirus tests the country can achieve. 

Edelman releases its Trust Barometer report during the World Economic Forum in Davos each year but has issued an additional spring update to understand the impact of the pandemic. It surveyed more than 13,000 people in Europe, North America, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Korea online between April 15 and April 23.