Edelman has released its annual Trust Barometer which found that Asia Pacific countries like India, China and Indonesia have experienced significant shifts in trust over an eight-year period driven largely by rising trust levels in both government and business.
It found little movement year on year apart from a few outliers, notably Australia and Hong Kong. The eight-point and 10-point shifts respectively were the largest ever recorded in its study.
There is also a 16-point gap between the more trusting informed public and the far-more-sceptical mass population, marking a return to record highs of trust inequality.
According to the report, which was based on an online survey of over 33,000 people in 27 markets around the world, the phenomenon fuelling this divide was a pronounced rise in trust among the informed public.
Markets such as South Korea and Hong Kong saw trust gains of 12 points or more among the informed public.
Speaking to The Drum about the study, Adrian Warr, the managing director for Hong Kong at Edelman, notes trust among the Hong Kong public experienced a year-on-year rise from 45 to 55 points, the largest increase across all 27 markets surveyed. The level of increase in the general public’s trust was consistent across the business, government, media and NGOs.
“The findings imply a less pessimistic outlook in Hong Kong than in previous years, with trust broadly returning to 2012 levels,” he explains. “Fewer people believe the system is failing them compared to the global average, 23% versus 46%. And there is a significant decline in people’s “desire for change” (-9 points), “lack of confidence” (-14 points) and “lack of hope” (-5 points) since 2017.”
“This massive surge in trust may come as surprising news to many. Perhaps in a less turbulent year politically, people have become more aware of the base socioeconomic indicators that make Hong Kong a great place to live. Significant challenges and uncertainties remain in Hong Kong, most notably a major gap between the haves and the have-nots. “
Warr says that means the million-dollar question is: “Are we seeing a brief respite from several years of darkness, or is this a return to form?”
Hong Kong businesses in a state of distrust
While trust in business in Hong Kong experienced the largest rise globally, it remains in a state of distrust for the eighth year in a row.
Warr points out as businesses have grown in power and wealth over time, so have people’s expectations of them to solve society’s problems. This is both a huge but complex opportunity and challenge.
“In 2019, it is the only institution that is distrusted. Additionally, Hong Kong is one of only two markets where business is trusted less than government – South Korea being the other (39%),” he adds.
According to the report, 73% of Singaporeans are worried about false information or fake news being used as a weapon, while 69% of people in Hong Kong are worried about the same thing.
Public trust in media experienced its second year of increased trust in Hong Kong, and the highest increase globally. With 69% of people worried about fake news being used as a weapon, they are turning to trusted sources, says Warr. This is reinforced by a 20-point increase in news engagement, and traditional media coming out as the most trusted media type (65%) at a time when social media remains distrusted (44%).
“People are turning back to the Fourth Estate to make informed decisions and we think it’s possible that the attack on the media has highlighted the value it plays in society,” explains Warr.
CEOs expected to take the lead
74% of Singaporeans chose their employers as their most trusted relationship, with almost similar numbers recorded in Hong Kong.
The report said this is a clear signal that people expect to see active community purpose from the private sector, and chief executives should take the lead on change instead of waiting for the government to impose it. Nearly two-thirds (62%) believe that a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the communities where it operates.
Employees also expect greater social purpose from employers, with 60% agreeing that it is critical for their chief executives to respond on societal issues during challenging times and the same number saying the purpose is a strong expectation or deal-breaker when choosing an employer in job decisions.
“As businesses have grown in power and wealth over time, so have people’s expectations of them to solve society’s problems,” says Warr. “Employers today need to think well beyond pay and bottom line and towards playing an active role in improving the communities in which they operate. This is both a huge but complex opportunity and challenge.”
You can read the rest of the report here.