ITALY AS AN ANOMALY, THE NEED FOR A NEW NARRATIVE TO RELY UPON
In 2020 the Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed over 33,000 respondents in 28 countries, approximately 1,100 respondents per country.
Before diving into the results of the 21st edition of our Trust Barometer, let me outline where we come from . True, the pandemic has changed a lot of things, but some of the trends were already in place.
We have been studying Trust in Italy for 16 years and the survey has revealed a number of long-term trends over the years; this year’s edition is no exception to the rule.
Among the 28 countries some trends are gaining tractions while others have been amplified by the pandemic, the overall trust landscape is disseminated with worries and concerns, and a general feeling of unease about the future.
From an economic standpoint, more than half the markets have populations where the majority do not believe they and their families will be better off in five years’ time.
Spoiler alert: Italy is different and, pandemic notwithstanding, the Country looks ahead: overall Trust gains 3 points over last year’s edition, and three out of four institutions (NGOs are the exception) are gaining more Trust: Government is up 10 points, Business +2 points, Media +1 point.
Maybe it’s time to rethink the way we tell the story of our Country.
LETS’ PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Last years’ results weren’t promising, the outlook for the future was uncertain, people were questioning whether the system as whole was working. There were four main trends that clearly stood out, picturing a bleak scenario. Here they are.
1) Capitalism failure
Nearly half of the respondents said that the system was failing them, they felt a sense of injustice in the world today. 61 percent of Italians agreed that capitalism as it existed at that time had done more harm than good in the world. They were not rejecting the system as a whole, but there was an overall lack of confidence.
2) Fear of losing our jobs
At a personal level, Italians were deeply concerned about their economic future. 87 percent of Italians were worried about losing their job, mainly due to issues related to globalization and the exporting of jobs.
3) Technology out of control
In addition to their personal economic and job loss fears, people had a feeling that changes due to technology were happening too fast. The lack of a watchdog was sensed strongly, 67% of Italians reported a general sense of uneasiness and 80% of respondents did not see the government as capable of understanding emerging technologies enough to regulate them effectively.
4) Quality of information and untrustful media
Related to these concerns about technology and the pace of change, people were worried about being able to discern what is real, and if they could trust the information available to them. They believed that even the media they personally use was now contaminated with untrustworthy information.
In 2020 the Edelman Trust Barometer also saw five extraordinary editions following the pandemic outburst, whose outcomes saw people ask Business to be more and more a reliable source of information and nurture an educational call to action, shield the workforce, and act wisely during the pandemic or suffer a boycott of their products: 66 percent of Italians said there were not going to buy products from companies that did not act responsibly, 92 percent of Italians said that brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends.
Business was being asked to act wisely, do not remain silent, do not act alone, partner up with governments; solve don’t sell, act responsibly and help softening the social tension..
In May 2020 the levels of Trust in all 4 institutions were the highest ever, except for media, that remained in a grey area.
All four of the institutions were at record-highs, with three having reached truster status across the general population. Note one important finding: in May Government was the most trusted institution—never before had it ranked in first place as most-trusted institution. All four institutions, and especially government, were asked to demonstrate, with tangible actions, that they merit that heightened level of trust.
ENTER THE 2021 TRUST BAROMETER EDITION
Enter 2021, what we see is a direct consequence of what had been recorded earlier. At global level and a reordering of institutional trust.
After an initial surge in all institutions, primarily for government, from May to January 2021, all institutions saw dramatic decreases in trust, giving back most (if not all) of the gains they saw in the Spring in all Countries, with a few exceptions, Italy being one of these.
As a matter of fact, while in most of the Countries Governments saw the biggest loss in trust, in Germany, France and Italy the story is different. In our Country, Trust in Government rises 10 points; Business gains 2 points; and Media 1 point. NGOs only are at an all-time low and lose one additional point with respect to 2020.
Getting back to 15 years ago, in 2006, the overall Trust index was 47 percent, move forward to 2021 and the same index now says 66%.
Apparently, Italy has not been fair to itself. We do need to start a new narrative which should be more in the area of optimism (as it happens in Asia) than in those of pragmatism (US) or skepticism (Europe at large).
This was also a year that continued to see an increase in trust inequality—the gap in trust between the more affluent, informed public sample versus the mass population. In 2021, Italy recorded a 15-point trust gap, but neither the informed public nor the mass population showed distrust in any of the Institutions being considered.
Besides, at global level Business is now the only institution that is seen as both competent and ethical, moving up from last year, when it was seen as competent but not ethical. In fact, in Italy business is the only institution that is seen as competent—40 points more so than government.
It turns out that contracting COVID is not the concern people are most worried about (71 percent). An even greater percentage are worried about job loss (87 percent last year, 89 percent this year), climate change (which has a significant comeback this year), and cyber-security. Nearly two in three now also worry about contracting COVID-19, while six in ten also worry about losing their personal freedoms in a year of lockdowns and mandatory stay-at-home orders.
IN PROXIMITY WE TRUST
Amidst urgent problems and in a year of crisis, leadership is failing. None of the societal leaders—government officials, CEOs, journalists, or even religious leaders—are trusted to do what is right. The people who are trusted, are those that are more local and familiar, such as people in my local community (despite a seven-point decrease since last year) and my employer’s CEO (76 percent). Scientists are still trusted, despite a significant seven-point decrease in trust since last year.
MEDIA, SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT
People have lost faith in the traditional markers of information credibility, and so, in a fearful, crisis-ridden world, we are facing not just a COVID pandemic, we are also facing an infodemic of epidemic proportions.
Trust in all information sources is at a record low. Not one of the sources of news—traditional media, search engines, owned or social media—is trusted; all have declined significantly in the last year.
News organizations are seen as biased. People believe that journalists and reporters, also, are purposely trying to mislead them. Nearly seven in ten say that news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or a political position than they are with informing people about what is actually happening in the world. And 75 percent of Italians believe that the media is not doing well at being objective and nonpartisan.
MORE HYGIENE NEEDED
The problem is that the vast majority of people simply don’t know how to best manage their own information diet. This year, the Trust Barometer measured how well respondents practice good information hygiene. Do they engage with multiple news sources? Avoid information echo chambers? Verify that the information they’re consuming is accurate? Vet content before sharing it?
Though alarming at global level, the outcomes show that Italy is not behaving badly: 35 percent of the population practices good information hygiene (versus 26 percent of the global population), defined as scoring well on any three of the four dimensions we measured.
HIGHER STAKES AND NEW NORMALITY
The lack of trust in media, the lack of credibility of spokespeople, the lack of good information hygiene, poses a direct threat to both public health and the global economy.
As of November 2020, when this data was collected, a total of 64 percent say that they are willing to be vaccinated, 33 percent as soon as possible, the remaining 31 percent within six months to one year.
Italians seem to be ready to go back to the office, at least 53% of us, while the remaining 47% shall choose to work at home. When asked why, a major reason was the increased risk of contracting COVID while commuting or being in the office.
53 percent of those who have chosen to return to the office, the most significant reason, cited by 37 percent, is that they are productive in the office. The fear of COVID is impeding not just a return to the workplace, but a return to greater productivity.
But the vaccine hesitancy that must be overcome in order to enable this return to the workplace and the reopening of the economy will not be overcome if we do not also address the infodemic and the lack of information hygiene. The Trust Barometer data finds a clear link between willingness to vaccinate and a good information diet.
People who practice good information hygiene are 11 points more likely to say that they are willing to vaccinate within the next year than those with poor information hygiene, among whom only 59 percent say they will vaccinate. At a country level, Italy registers a 15 point gap in willingness to vaccinate between those with good vs poor information hygiene.
BUSINESS BEYOND BUSINESS
Amidst these challenges, one thing has never been clearer: the mandate for business to act beyond the business.
When government is absent or ineffective, people expect business to step in and fill the void.
65 percent of Italians agree that CEOs should step in when government does not fix societal problems. .
57 percent agree CEOs should take the lead on change, rather than waiting for government to impose it.
And 55 percent believe that that CEOs should hold themselves accountable to the public, not just to a board of directors and stakeholders.
As the only institution that is trusted to be competent, business is expected to play a leading role in addressing challenges beyond the business itself.
Business leaders must set the tone, with 74 percent saying that they expect CEOs to publicly speak out on challenges such as the pandemic impact, job automation, societal issues, as well as local community issues.
But talk is not enough—in fact today, a business must take action before it talks if it is to remain credible. And this is where we have another stunning finding: the greatest opportunity for business to gain trust is by performing well as a guardian of information quality, ensuring that only reliable, trustworthy information is being shared and consumed.
CEOs are in an unprecedented position and are being asked more and more to exercise their power to influence an ever-complex stakeholder society. As the old saying goes: with greater power comes greater responsibilities.
Other key trust-building actions show that people are looking for business to act for the long term: embracing sustainability, and focusing on long-term thinking over short-term profits, in addition to delivering a robust response to COVID and driving economic prosperity.
Similar to the finding that business is expected to fill the void left by an incompetent government, companies also have a responsibility to fill the information void when the news media is failing to supply accurate information.
But, as anticipated, business cannot go it alone. It must partner with the other institutions to address societal challenges. And, crucially, it must also ensure that both consumers and employees have a seat at the table.
7 in 10 Italians agree that consumers have the power to force corporations to change, and more than 5 in 10 believe the same is true for employees. People believe they should not only be heard, but also have their voices contribute to decisions that are made in a company.
Activism is on the rise in the workplace. Employees say they are far more likely to speak up: one in two those who are employed agree that they are more likely today, than a year ago, to voice their objections and engage in workplace protests if they strongly disagree with a company action or policy.
WHAT ARE THE KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE 21ST EDITION OF THE EDELMAN TRUST BAROMETER?
First and foremost, they have to do with Business.
Business must embrace its expanded mandate and lead on societal issues.. Leaders (and CEOs above all) must lead with facts and act with empathy. They must have the courage to communicate transparently, but also be able to empathize and address people's fears.
We must work together – especially at local level since proximity seems to be the key to Trust - to provide trustworthy information that is truthful, unbiased, and reliable.
Finally, it is critical that the four institutions not go at it alone but instead, find a common purpose and take collective actions to solve societal problems.
As Bob Dylan put it some 50 plus years ago, today as never before “The Times they are a-changing”, and, as he suggested, we’d “better start swimming” or we’ll “sink like a stone”.
Fiorella Passoni, CEO Edelman Italia