The Pew Research Center for People and the Press reported Monday that public trust of the federal government has reached near record lows. From a survey in March, the Pew Center found that 22% of U.S. adults say they trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time. As they write in their report, “…(the new) survey finds a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government – a dismal economy, an unhappy public (and) bitter partisan-based backlash…” that has led to ratings among the lowest in half a century.
While a large majority of the American public currently has a lack of trust for our federal government, perceptions among opinion leaders appear to be increasing. In the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust for government “to do what is right” increased 16 points in the U.S. among informed publics – those individuals 25-64 who are college educated, have a higher income, track public policy, and consume business news regularly. In addition, trust for global companies headquartered in the U.S. jumped 11 points compared to 2009. But as Edelman writes, they see these increases as tenuous and fragile given other things they learned in the study.
So what are these data telling us? For public relations professionals, building and maintaining trust and reputation are key elements of what we do everyday for our clients and the organizations for which we work, whether we are marketing a product or service, raising the visibility for an organization or managing a crisis. With the 24/7 news cycle and continuous access to online communications by customers and other stakeholders, PR professionals need to be vigilant and always prepared for that perfect storm of conditions that could affect the trust and reputation of our own organizations or our clients.