I was pitched some of the key findings by their NY office which contained mainly key US or global insights. The main take-out for me was that trust in business was on the up – which I find frankly amazing given the near utter collapse of industries and household names which were the bedrock of the US economy.
Discussing this with Edelman UK’s marketing manager (@belautel) brought up the subject of the Obama bounce. Perhaps, but even so Obama hasn’t fully delivered on all the great promises he made prior to being elected. Maybe here’s a lag in the survey data – or maybe Americans are just generally a lot more optimistic!
Anyway... to the UK results which, unsurprisingly, demonstrate that an up-lift in trust for business has not materialised.
What is interesting – although equally unsurprising – is that trust in politicians remains awful across the board:
- 71% distrust government vs 12% trust
- 71% distrust MPs in general vs 10% trust
- 71% distrust Gordon Brown vs 16% trust
- 51% distrust David Cameron vs 29% trust
- 52% distrust Nick Clegg vs 16% trust (16% don't know)
- 49% distrust their local MP vs 25% trust
Frankly, that’s damning.
But what I wanted to pull out of this data was a wider point related to the Internet and democracy.
Jump back a couple of weeks: I went to see the Spanish academic, Manuel Castells, speak last month at the launch of his new book, Communciation Power (hopefully, a more detailed write-up on this soon). I won't serve up the background on Castells; Wikipedia has it here.
In a nutshell Castells in the forefather of the concept of the ‘Networked Society’. Importantly, he was saying a long time ago that changes to the structure of organisations, society, space, power and communcation were causing (among other things) a crisis of legitimacy for politics, government and the state.
His latest book brings these themes up-to-date and in-line with social media – an even more powerful communications shift removing power from insititiotions and ceding more to the public.
Castell’s would probably argue that Edelman’s results reinforce this shift. But I think that would be an over-simplification of a number of wider issues.
For example, if people distrust politicians so much why do people continue to vote? Admitttedly, turn-out figures decrease election-on-election but there is no mass revolt or attempts to create a new system in its place.
Maybe this is because we are generally apathetic. But there's a body of research (shortcut here to a PDF with a good round-up) has indicated that distrust in politics can go two ways.
Firstly it can cause people to become disillusioned with the politics and stop engaging with the ‘democratic’ system. This would seem to indicate that as more and more politicians are exposed as untrustworthy; fraudulent; all-round generally unpleasant people(!) more and more people will dis-engage from democracy?
Well, perhaps, but the second trait of falling trust in politicians is this: as more politicians are exposed as untrustworthy, the average voter starts to make more relative, value-based judgements about democracy.
Rather than not voting because a politician is untrustworthy, they decide that out of all the untrustworthy politicians, they'll vote for the least untrustworthy.
So, rather than a catastrophic failure of democracy which will lead to a radical, internet-based, fully participatory democracy we might end up with a middle-ground: a terminally broken system where the least worst option is the best.
Of course we may find that the reforms currently propsoed to deal with corupt, untrustworthy politicians solve all our problems.