“Do you trust government?”

This is a question interpreted by some Americans, especially leftist ideologues, as a political affront. Readers of this journal, however, should rephrase and ask, “Does U.S. business/industry trust federal government?” This topic is annually assessed by the world’s largest public-relations firm, Edelman, on a continuing basis and provides fascinating reading. Now comes the crux of the matter for you, good reader. What do you want to do about it?

The daily news, assuming you “hear” real broadcasting and “read” newspapers that are not advertising agencies, describes all manner of concerns. Here are a few: National Security Agency circumvention of the Patriot Act so as to eavesdrop on citizens; Internal Revenue Service selection of political targets for denial of political rights or other more egregious matters not yet revealed; State Department failures to forthrightly explain what happened in Libya and why Americans there were allowed to perish without assistance; Department of Justice failing to explain why sending weapons to Mexican gun cartels benefited America and why U.S. border police were jeopardized with this activity; and what we now call ObamaCare.

The list here is long over the past few years. My view as a Washington representative and lobbyist for over four decades is that things are amiss. I learned long ago not to believe a word from the mouth of a liar, and you must lie to be a politician.  

But let’s get specific about “trust,” where you and your company stand, and what remedies you can invoke. Mind you, I did not use the word “practical” because we all have a pitchfork in the garage. The Edelman surveys teach a lot. Following are some round numbers from the “2012 Edelman Trust Barometer,” which surveys about 30,000 people in 25 industrialized nations, with 1,000 respondents per country, college educated, in the top 25% household income, by two age groups in the 25-64 range, and who have significant knowledge of business news and public policy. Following is a snapshot, worldwide and in the U.S. as specified.

Since 2006, business is more trusted than government or the media.

Distrust is growing, and fewer nations’ populations are neutral. In 2012, distrust levels were Germany (44%), U.S. (42%), U.K. (40%), France (40%), Russia (40%), Ireland (39%), Spain (37%) and Japan (34%).

A record decline in government trust exists worldwide over the past decade. A majority of populations now distrust their government. Distrust of governments and business moved in synchrony since 2008 in all western economies.

Trust in technology remains high in all markets (with the financial sector at the bottom of the list). In 2012, trust by sector was technology (80%), telecommunications (67%), automotive (66%), food and beverage (64%), consumer package goods (62%), pharmaceuticals (61%), energy (60%), brewing and spirits (59%), media (52%) banks (47%). 

Skepticism requires repetition to have effect for information to be believed.

Government leaders are less trusted than business leaders.

NGOs (non-government organizations) are the most trusted organizations for presenting the truth, in spite of recent declines in their stature.

Neither business nor government is meeting public expectations for truth.

Despite lack of trust in government, calls for regulation have increased. Calls for greater protections and responsible behavior are rising. Despite this, business does not want government playing a role in their world.  

Multiple polling surveys and assessments (Edelman, Harris Interactive, Weber Shandwick) essentially agree that 18% of the public trusts business leaders to tell the truth, with government leaders only 13% believable. Curiously, business size has an impact. In the U.S., 86% of respondents to Edelman surveys indicate trust in small business compared to 55% in large business; the reverse is true in most developing nations. Also, this level of confidence in small company management is the same as in our nation’s military establishment, far higher than the 15% level in major corporate management, which outshines law firms, the general press, Wall Street and Congress. Paying attention to all of this, about two-thirds of CEOs from the top 50 world companies are now using social media to engage the public.  

What to do? Keep doing your honest job to widen the gap between your businesses, which makes the world go round, and the corrupt Washington establishment that seems bent on killing what America has been. And keep your pitchfork handy just in case. IH