Trust Barometer Forecast: Sunshine in China, Storms in US

Two studies released by Gallup and Pew compared how citizens evaluated other countries; in both studies, China’s positives skyrocketed and those of the United States cratered.

By Harvey Dzodin

Another study by a renowned public opinion survey firm documents how China is increasingly well-perceived – and the global comparative results are also nothing short of astounding. Two studies released last year by Gallup and Pew compared how citizens evaluated other countries; in both studies, China’s positives skyrocketed and those of the United States cratered. Now the latest survey data, released on March 22, conducted by Edelman Intelligence and released in cooperation with Tsinghua University’s National Image Research Center, show the high and increasing level of trust that Chinese citizens have in their own national institutions. Positive perceptions have increased year-over-year, while in many other countries, most notably the U.S., internal trust in national institutions has nosedived.

China Rises to the Top of the Trust Index

The Edelman Trust Barometer, in its 18th year, is an annual study of nationally-projectable public opinion that covers 28 nations across all continents, with special emphasis on China and the U.S. The Barometer surveys both the more educated, well-read “informed population” and the “general public.” Edelman has studied trust since the beginning of the 21st century, pointing to the importance of feeling safe as people increasingly entrust national institutions with the role of acting in their best interests. Unlike reputation and favorability, which are studied by Gallup and Pew and are historically focused, trust is a predictor of future credibility.

China rose to the top of the Trust Index with a 27-point gain, more than any other of the 28 countries surveyed. Jumping seven points to 74 percent among the general population, China climbed from third place last year to first of all countries surveyed this year, in terms of trust placed in its institutions. China was the only nation that saw significant increases in trust across all four institutions: government, business, media and NGOs. This result is unprecedented in the 18-year history of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Looking specifically at its government, Chinese trust levels year-over-year jumped 8 points to 84 percent among the general population, and 3 points to 89 percent within the informed public. This is also the highest recorded rating in the study’s history. Among the four institutions, 68 percent of the general population believe that the government is most likely to lead the country towards a better future.

The results unambiguously convey confidence among the Chinese population in both the economic and social achievements in China. It’s important to note that this is no biased survey shilling for the Chinese government, but is conducted by one of the planet’s top research firms.

US Faced with Crisis of Trust

This is in sharp contrast with the results from the United States, where the cititzens’ trust in their institutions has suffered the largest-ever-recorded drop in the survey’s history among the general population, falling 9 points year-over-year to 43 percent, putting it in the lower quarter of the 28-market Trust Index. Trust among the informed public imploded, plunging 23 points to 45 percent, making it the lowest of the 28 nations surveyed, below Russia and South Africa. The collapse of trust is driven by a lack of faith in government, which fell 14 points to 33 percent among the general population, and 30 points to 33 percent among the informed public.

According to Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, “The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust. This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs. The root cause of this fall is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse.”

It boils down to the contrasting leadership of the two presidents, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, and how their constituents feel about them. When the study was fielded from Oct. 28 to Nov. 20, Trump was dealing with allegations that key staff had colluded with Russia to sway the U.S. election, as well as fending off reports of his multiple dalliances with other women. President Xi was coming off the successful 19th National Congress of the CPC in which he presented his blueprint for achieving the “Chinese dream” in two steps and stated his goal to achieve the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.

The results of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reflect the current chaos and stormy future in the U.S., despite a rosy economy for many, and are starkly contrasted with the Chinese people’s sunny faith in today’s leadership and the promise of accelerated progress in the future.



The author is a research fellow for the think tank Center for China and Globalization, senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice president of ABC Television in New York.


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China Focus