Edelman's 2014 Trust Barometer reveals that trust in government has plunged to a historic low across several countries, leading the firm to call for business to lead the regulatory debate.

The findings from the PR firm's 14th edition of the annual survey demonstrate the largest-ever gap in trust between the business and government, thanks to the former holding steady and the latter declining precipitously.

The study polled 27,000 general population respondents with an oversample of 6,000 informed publics aged 25-64 across 27 countries. 

Trust in government fell globally four points to an historic low (44%) making it the least trusted institution for the third consecutive year. The drop in government trust among informed publics was even more dramatic on a country level, plummeting in the US (-16% to 37%), France (-17% to 32%) and Hong Kong (-18% to 45%).

Among the general population, trust in government is below 50 percent in 22 of the 27 countries surveyed, with strikingly low levels in Western Europe, particularly in Spain (14%), Italy (18%) and France (20%).

Those numbers lead Richard Edelman to conclude that his clients must play a bigger role around the debate and design of regulation. 79% believe government should not be working alone when setting policy, while 84% believe that business can pursue its self-interest while doing good work for society, and 74% say that business should be involved in formulating regulation in the energy and food industries. 

“This is a profound evolution in the landscape of trust from 2009 where business had to partner with government to regain trust, to today, where business must lead the debate for change,” said Edelman.

However, the public continues to call for more regulation of specific industries, notably financial services (53%), energy (51%) and food and beverage (48%). Regionally, the study found that 66% want more regulation of the financial services industry in Germany, 73% of people in the UK want more regulation of the energy business, while in China, 84% desire stronger regulation of the food industry.

“Business cannot interpret these shifts as a chance to push for deregulation as it did a decade ago, that would be a huge error in judgment,” said Edelman. “Events of the past 12 months, including the $13 billion fine for J.P. Morgan and the largest-ever bankruptcy in Latin America with the failure of Eike Batista’s EBX deepwater oil drilling firm, coupled with the memory of the recession of 2008, have renewed concerns about business’ ability to self-regulate.” 

Meanwhile, trust in business leaders remains strikingly low. While CEOs have recovered from a low of 31% in 2009 to 43% this year they still rank seventh out of eight, sitting only above government official (36%), as most credible spokesperson.

Academics (67%) and technical experts (66%), a 'person like yourself' (62%) and employees (52%) continue to be far more trusted. CEOs can build trust in themselves and their companies by communicating clearly and transparently (82%), telling the truth regardless of how unpopular it is (81%) and engaging regularly with employees (80%). 

The Barometer identified four key factors driving trust in business; industry sector, enterprise type, CEO trust and country of origin. Technology (79%) and automotive (70%) were once again the most trusted industry sectors, while banks (51%) were least trusted with dramatically low trust levels in Western Europe; Spain (16%), Italy (23%), UK (32%), Germany (33%) and France (38%).