The Edelman report found a co-relation between polarisation in society and respondents’ distrust in government as well as other factors such as the perception of the lack of a shared identity and systemic unfairness.
Six countries were found to be “severely polarised”: Argentina, Colombia, the United States, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. These are countries where a large proportion of respondents said that they see deep divisions which cannot be overcome.
Singapore was among the countries found to be “not polarised”, along with China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
This was in line with a separate study from last year by American research think-tank Pew, which found that about 75 per cent of Singaporeans thought the country was more united than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other measures of trust in the Edelman survey indicated that in general, trust in institutional leaders has grown — with scientists being the most trusted (73 per cent) in Singapore, followed by co-workers and government leaders, both at 70 per cent.
Journalists were the least trusted, by only 55 per cent of the respondents. This mirrors the result of another question where the media was seen only by 47 per cent as a “reliable source of trustworthy information”.
Among the four institutions of government, business, media and NGOs, government again scored the highest as a trusted source of information (62 per cent). Business fared marginally worse than media with 46 per cent, and NGOs were at 52 per cent.
INEQUALITY AND TRUST
The Edelman survey found that a global divide in trust between the high-income and low-income earners is growing, with a similar trend observed in Singapore.
In three quarters of the countries surveyed, respondents with a high income are more trusting of institutions than those with low income. High-income earners’ average trust in institutions has risen globally from 50 per cent to 62 per cent since 2012. For low-income earners, the Trust Index also rose, but only slightly from 44 per cent to 48 per cent.
The largest divides in 2023 were found in Thailand, with a 37-point gap and in the US, which had a 23-point gap.
In Singapore, the difference between the trust levels of high-income and low-income earners was 18 points — tied for the seventh largest gap among all countries surveyed.
The biggest changes in divergence since 2021 have been in China, where the divide widened from a 4-point to a 19-point difference, and the UAE where it grew from 10 points to 19 points.
The Edelman report also found that economic optimism has “collapsed” globally, from 50 per cent to 40 per cent, and Singapore was not immune to this trend.
Nearly half of the countries surveyed showed a year-over-year double-digit decline in the belief that they and their families will be better off in five years’ time, said Edelman.
In Asia, respondents in developing countries showed more optimism than developed countries: In Indonesia and India, 73 per cent of respondents think their lives will improve in five years’ time. In contrast, only 9 per cent think so in Japan, and 28 per cent in South Korea.
In Singapore, 36 per cent of respondents said that their lives will improve — an all-time low in optimism, according to Edelman, and a a seven-point decline from last year’s 43 per cent.
WEAKENING SOCIAL FABRIC
When asked what they were most worried about, respondents in Singapore were overwhelmingly concerned about job loss, with 90 per cent of employees saying they were worried about that.
About seven in 10 respondents were concerned about inflation, climate change or nuclear war.
Like others around the world, respondents in Singapore were also worried about a weakening social fabric.
In Singapore, nearly half or 44 per cent believed that the lack of civility and mutual respect today is the worst they have ever seen — lower than the global average where nearly two thirds observe an unprecedented lack of civility and mutual respect in society.
And 46 per cent believed that the social fabric that once held Singapore together “has grown too weak to serve as a foundation for unity and common purpose”. This was a slight dip from 49 per cent who believe this last year.