Following 'unimaginable' year, survey finds trust levels in many countries back at 2009 levels

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A cable train makes its way up the Weissfluhjoch mountain in Davos, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. The world's financial and political elite will head this week to the Swiss Alps for 2015's gathering of the World Economic Forum , WEF, at the Swiss ski resort of Davos. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)


DAVOS, Switzerland — Trust in institutions has fallen to levels not seen since the financial crisis, after a year that produced the twin Malaysia Airlines disasters and the conflict in Ukraine, a global survey found Tuesday.

As the world's business elite gathered in the Swiss resort of Davos, the public relations firm Edelman found that general level of trust in institutions — among college-educated people around the globe — at levels not seen since 2009 in many of the markets it surveyed.

Its overall trust index was down a percentage point from the previous year at 55 percent. The highest levels of trust were recorded in the United Arab Emirates at 84 percent, followed by India at 79 percent. Trust levels in major developed economies, such as the United States, Germany and France, hovered around 50 percent. Of those surveyed, Japan was ranked lowest at 37 percent.

Edelman's 2015 Trust Barometer shows waning trust in non-governmental organizations, media and business. Trust in government recovered somewhat but politicians remain the most distrusted group assessed at 48 percent.

Richard Edelman, the firm's president and CEO, blamed the "unpredictable and unimaginable events of 2014" for the growing malaise.

In an interview with The Associated Press, he listed events that contributed to waning trust levels, including the spread of Ebola in West Africa, the arrest of top Chinese government officials, a foreign-exchange rate rigging scandal involving big global banks and numerous hacking attacks that led to data breaches, most recently on Sony Pictures.

Edelman also cautioned that the rapid changes taking place, particularly in technology, are bearing down on trust.

"There must be a new compact between company and individual, where companies demonstrate that innovations are safe based on independent research, provide both societal and personal benefit and are committed to the protection of customer data," he said.

Separately, Ed Williams, CEO of Edelman UK, said in London that trust in Britain was generally "flat-lining" except with regard to the domestic intelligence service MI5, found to be trusted by 72 percent; the police, rated at 70 percent; and the overseas security service, MI6, by 64 percent. He said the British security services were more trusted by Britons than the American FBI or CIA.

Edelman's survey of what it terms the informed public was based on 500 respondents in the U.S. and China and 200 in 25 other countries. Those surveyed were aged 25-64, college-educated and in the top 25 percent of household income per age group in each country.

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Gregory Katz in London contributed.

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