The Crisis of Trust in Democracy and Globalisation

By Graham Vanbergen

Crimes of the rich and powerful elite have led to a global crisis of trust. In this article, the author elaborates on how societies have now lost their confidence and faith to established authorities and governments. But in a globalised world where there’s no trust and only fear, how can we expect the future to be bright?


Trust is in crisis all around the world. The four key institutions of trust in business, government, NGOs, and media have been in decline for years. So much so that the majority of respondents to the Edelman Trust Barometer1 now believe that the overall system is simply no longer functional and does not work for them.

The consequence to such an environment of suspicion and cynicism is that people’s concerns over globalisation,2 the pace of innovation, employment prospects, immigration and eroding social values are turned into fear. And fear-factor politics has become endemic. The consequence is evidenced in the rise of political figures such as Donald Trump, the rise of extreme political parties across Europe, the collapse of establishment politics in France, the failure of the Italian referendum, Brexit and then the Theresa May election debacle. All these events are inextricably linked because they were all decisions that were fundamentally driven by a lack of trust. According to reports, Theresa May was warned not to proceed with a snap election by her campagin guru Lynton Crosby CEO of the CT Group elections consultancy.

All these events are inextricably linked because they were all decisions that were fundamentally driven by a lack of trust.

The Barometer revealed nothing less than a malignancy sweeping across democratic nations in particular. Trust in the media is now at an all-time low. Government is now the least trusted institution in half of all 28 nations in the survey. Even trust in business leaders has collapsed globally, plummeting in every country studied – whilst right at the very bottom of the survey results, government leaders retain the title of least credible.

This should really come as no surprise. In the last ten years the scandals rocking democracy have been epic. The global financial crisis that emanated in America, swept around Europe like an uncontrollable fire – austerity its only strategy of resurrecting the lifeless corpse of what was once a vibrant economy. Bailing out the banking behemoths on Wall Street and the City of London, Paris, Rome and Athens, all paid for by the less well off is cited in so much anger.

Financial crimes, mass money laundering tax havens, ponzi schemes, privatisation of state assets, cover-ups and the looting entire countries, the list goes on and on. But in truth, these are the crimes of the rich and powerful and people know it.


The survey found that 53 percent believe the system is rigged, unfair and has failed them. Worse, only 15 percent believe the system is working at all and another third aren’t sure. Just think about that for a moment. Of 28 democracies, only 15 percent of the population believe that their lot is OK.

Tellingly, the survey actually asks the financially well off, the elite, what they think of the very system they are exploiting and even they agree the system has failed. In addition, 48 percent of the top quartile in income, 49 percent of the college/university-educated and a majority of the well informed (51 percent) also agree that the system has actually failed.

To recap, less than one in five of the mass population and only half of the elite think democracy and the institutions that supports it is now functional. And yet, the gap between the trust held by the informed public and that of the mass population has widened to 15 points, with the biggest disparities in the US (21 points), UK (19 points) and France (18 points). The mass population in 20 countries distrusts their institutions, compared to only six for the informed public. It’s interesting that the establishment have been seriously challenged in all three of those countries with the biggest disparities.

Search engines are now providing more news delivery than human editors from the traditional sources of news.

As you read the 66-page report and survey findings, it becomes apparent what the real state of “the system” really is in. Dire and critical are the words that come to mind.

Fear of destabilisation is driving sentiment. Corruption tops the list,3 but immigration, globalisation and eroding social values along with the pace of innovation all follow close behind. These fears are well founded and manifest themselves in the most sudden of political change, hence the failed Italian referendum, Trump, Brexit and even new French president Emmanuel Macron.

The highly publicised emergence of “fake news” has not helped of course. The dramatic rise of social media and huge use by billionaires and corporations to push their message with micro-ads to manipulate elections and referendums is feeding the fear. Search engines are now providing more news delivery than human editors from the traditional sources of news.

People are now trapped in their own “echo chambers” that only makes matters worse and they are now known to reject any notion that they don’t believe in, reinforcing the lack of trust.


Figure 1: Credibility of Leadership Crisis

Source: The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer

Proof of this can be seen in one part of the report that confirms that a person like yourself is now just as credible a source of information as is a technical (60 percent) or academic (60 percent) expert, and far more credible than a CEO (37 percent) and government official (29 percent).

“People now view media as part of the elite”, said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “The result is a proclivity for self-referential media and reliance on peers. The lack of trust in media has also given rise to the fake news phenomenon and politicians speaking directly to the masses. Media outlets must take a more local and social approach.”

One should not forget that the mass population make up nearly 90 percent of the global population and half of them live on less than $2.50 a day. Globalisation has not rescued them from poverty,4 and the Eurozone has been described as a “poverty machine” as its economy continues in stagnation mode.5

The mass population mistrust of government is prevalent in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, UK, Sweden and Poland. All of these European countries now present systemic political risk to the establishment. The US and Australia are included and surprisingly, so is Canada.

Trust in the British media has fallen 4 places in just one year to seventh from bottom, only just behind, Turkey, Poland and Russia. Trust in NGOs has fallen in 21 of 28 – Britain again falls four places to seventh. In all these findings there was the real sense of injustice. Then there was a lack of hope; a lack of confidence and a desire for change and it was the government who is predominantly the cause of all this anxiety. In 2017, 50 percent of the countries in the barometer have reported a complete loss of faith in “the system”. The US ranks 13th from last, the UK 10th last, Germany 9th, Italy 2nd and France last. In contrast, Russia, China and the UAE rank the top countries for faith in their systems.


Figure 2: Fears Further Erode Belief in the System

Source: The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer

Corruption is now feared by 77 percent of respondents. And 79 percent are fearful about globalisation, 83 percent are concerned about social erosion and 72 percent about immigration. The pace of innovation concerns 68 percent – no doubt this will increase over time with continual reports of the rise of robotics and technology such as artificial intelligence.

As for the UK’s decision to leave the European Union; 54 percent said that the system had failed them and that they were fearful for the future. That fear dropped to 27 percent for those that voted to remain in the EU.

Traditional news and broadcast media are now showing the steepest declines in audience of all mediums. 53 percent of people do not listen at all to people or organisations that they do not agree with, with 59 percent finding the information they want from search engines. Contrary to what the government’s say, 64 percent believe in leakers and whistle-blowers, but only 36 percent believe in corporate press releases and company statements.

Globalisation is notable as 50 percent agree it is taking them in the wrong direction with 60 percent fearing; loss of jobs to foreign competitors (60%), immigration (58%), jobs moving to cheaper markets (55%) and automation (54%).

53 percent of people do not listen at all to people or organisations that they do not agree with, with 59 percent finding the information they want from search engines.

Here we can see how protectionism is now dominating the political arena. 72 percent in the survey say the government should protect their jobs, 69 percent the government should prioritise their own country needs and 50 percent say we should no longer sign trade agreements.

All of the survey findings are leading towards the understanding that there is a fundamental shift going on right now. Influence and authority that came from the traditional elite supported by experts and their institutions has fully inverted as people start to reject established authority.

“The implications of the global trust crisis are deep and wide-ranging”, said Edelman. “It began with the Great Recession of 2008, but like the second and third waves of a tsunami, globalisation and technological change have further weakened people’s trust in global institutions. The consequence is virulent populism and nationalism as the mass population has taken control away from the elites.”

As Edelman eludes, change is coming from the people because change was made for them without their consent.

Featured Image: Thousands of people gathered in central London to demonstrate against the UK government’s economic policies. (source:

About the Author

graham-webGraham Vanbergen’s business career culminated in a Board position in one of Britain’s largest property portfolio’s owned by one of the world’s largest financial institutions of its type. Today, he writes for a number of renowned news and political outlets, is the contributing editor of and Director of


1. 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer:
2. The Grim Realities of Globalisation:
3. Corruption I the European Union:
4. Poverty – global facts and stats:
5. Eurozone is a turning into a poverty machine: