NEW YORK--The 13th edition of Edelman's annual Trust Barometer reveals widespread distrust of business and political leaders.

Fewer than one in five respondents to the global study believes a business or governmental leader will actually tell the truth when confronted with a difficult issue.

Trust in leaders, furthermore, is far lower than that of institutions in all 26 markets polled. For example, 50 percent trust business to do what is right, while only 18 percent trust business leaders to tell the truth. In China and the US, that gap is larger, at 35 points. 

The report uncovers a similar trust gap of 28 points between government and government officials is 28 points, although this increases considerably in China, where it finds a 47 point divide between government and government officials.

“We’re clearly experiencing a crisis in leadership,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO, Edelman. “Business and governmental leaders must change their management approach and become more inclusive by seeking the input of employees, consumers, activists and experts such as academics, and adapting to their feedback.”

Produced by Edelman Berland, the Trust Barometer polls 26,000 general respondents and 5,800 wealthy, well-educated and well-informed respondents in 26 countries.

This year’s Barometer also reveals that academics, technical experts and a person like yourself are nearly twice as trusted as a chief executive or government official. “This confirms the democratizing trend of recent years with influence and authority moving away from CEOs and government leaders to experts and peers,” said Edelman.

There were minor increases in trust for business and government, with three of four institutions (NGOs, 63 percent; media, 57 percent; business, 58 percent) surpassing their all-time-highs.

Overall, the general population is far more skeptical of institutions than informed publics. Trust across all four institutions is nine points lower among the general population; the largest difference, 14 points, is seen in the US, Sweden and Poland. 

Banks and financial services remain the least trusted sectors, particularly in Germany (23 percent), UK (22 percent), Spain (19 percent) and Ireland (11 percent). Trust in banks, globally, is now 11 points lower than it was in 2008, with respondents citing poor performance and the perception of unethical behaviour as key factors.

“The financial services industry must become more aggressive in explaining its business model and do away with terms such as ‘proprietary trading’,” said Alan VanderMolen, president and CEO, global practices, Edelman and vice chairman DJE. “Stakeholders have to understand how banks are making money and how the industry is working to benefit its shareholders and society.”

Meanwhile, the study finds that MNCs headquartered in developed markets are consistently more trusted than those in emerging markets (China, India and Mexico scored lowest). Furthermore, the Barometer also found that small businesses are most trusted in the West while big business is on top in emerging economies.

In addition, the report believes there has been a dramatic change in how trust in companies is established, with stakeholders now placing greater emphasis on engagement and integrity-based attributes such as treating employees well, listening to customers and exhibiting ethical and transparent practices. Operational-based attributes, including financial performance and being recognized as a “best” place to work, were nearly twice as important in 2008 (76 percent) as they are in 2013 (39 percent).