• Trust in government and those responsible for government has decreased: After the Bundestag elections, countermeasures are needed. Without trust in government action, it will be difficult to address social challenges.
  • Companies have a responsibility: In Germany, they are more trusted than the government when it comes to solving social challenges. This increases the responsibility for companies to position themselves more strongly in society and to get involved.

Berlin, 15th September 2021. Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, the government and institutions in Germany have been confronted with volatile trust scores. The increase in trust that the government enjoyed at the beginning of the pandemic is fading and the scores are showing a negative trend. EU institutions have also lost trust over the course of the pandemic. At the same time, people's expectations have changed: Factual issues continue to gain importance and concrete solutions to social challenges are expected. When asked who can solve these challenges, respondents not only put their trust in politicians, but also expected solutions from companies, including their own employers. Sebastian Kruse, Head of Public Affairs Edelman Germany, analyzes what the loss of trust and the changed expectations mean for the Bundestag elections and the new government, based on data from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 Spring Update "A World in Trauma".

Downward trend: Trust in German government and the EU declines

The government was unable to uphold the increase in trust that it received from respondents at the beginning of the pandemic. On the contrary, only 55% of Germans still have trust in their government. This represents a drop of 4 percentage points compared with the previous year. Nevertheless, the government remains the most trusted institution in Germany, followed by companies (54%, +/-0 %pts), the media (53%; +1 %pts) and NGOs (47%; +1 %pts).
The Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 Spring Update does not only show a downward trend in trust among institutions in Germany. Germans' trust in EU institutions has declined significantly. At 46% (- 5 %pts.), this downward trend in Germany is particularly dramatic compared to other surveyed countries. While Germans were still neutral toward the EU in January, they now express their distrust in the EU just five months later.

Crisis of trust for government officials

When asked which leaders the respondents trust to do the right thing, the answer was also clear: 40% of Germans say they trust government officials, 44%  trust CEOs and 49% trust journalists — all of whom are therefore in the “distrust range”. Only the CEO of their own employer (64%) and scientists (73%) are considered trustworthy leaders.

"The corona pandemic is leaving its mark, not only socially and economically, but also politically. Trust in key players is declining. Citizens are becoming increasingly insecure. That's why political stakeholders in Germany need to gain more trust in their own actions. During the election campaign, it is crucial that representatives of all democratic parties convince voters of their own problem-solving abilities. At the same time, this inevitably means that the new government must stabilize and strengthen trust in itself as the central force of government action if it is to overcome social challenges such as climate change or the pandemic."

Sebastian Kruse, Head of Public Affairs Edelman Germany

A similar pattern emerges with regard to honesty and credibility. 34 % of those surveyed in Germany say that both values were high for national government officials, but have fallen significantly in the past year. Only 17% say they were lower and have risen significantly in the past year.

Government lags behind in solving social challenges

The potential reasons for a lack of trust in the government and those responsible for it are complex. The findings show that Germans rate companies as equally good or better than the governement at solving social challenges — even for duties usually or traditionally performed by the government. This includes:

  • Driving economic growth and job creation (8 points difference)
  • Responding to health issues and public safety aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic (5 point difference)
  • Ensuring the education system is preparing people for jobs of the future (5 point difference)
  • Addressing systemic inequities (4 point difference)
  • Addressing climate change (2 point difference) 
  • Guarding information quality (1 point difference)

Overall, companies perform better than the government in almost all areas. The government only scores one point more when it comes to improving the healthcare system.

"In Germany, a relatively high level of trust is placed in companies in particular. This translates into a strong mandate to use this trust in a positive way and fill it with life. A partnership approach and joint engagement of companies with government stakeholders, academia and NGOs can be a way to solve social and societal challenges. There are many ways to do this: Companies, and likewise their CEOs, must provide trustworthy sources of information, link facts with empathy and communicate accordingly, and above all, show transparency and openness."

Sebastian Kruse, Head of Public Affairs Edelman Germany

This is because expectations of companies are growing. 53 % of Germans say that their country will not be able to solve the challenges without the involvement of companies. 31% of Germans say CEOs are not sufficiently involved in social challenges. Likewise, respondents would like to see more involvement from them in political challenges (14%).

2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update: A World in Trauma 

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update: A World in Trauma is an update to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. The survey was conducted by Edelman Data & Intelligence (DxI) between April 30 and May 11, 2021, and sampled more than 16,800 respondents in 14 markets: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, S. Africa, S. Korea, UAE, UK, and U.S. 1,200 people were surveyed in each market, 100 of whom were informed public. All informed public respondents met the following criteria: aged 25-64; college-educated; household income in the top quartile for their age in their country; read or watch business/news media at least several times a week; and follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week. For more information, visit https://www.edelman.com/research/trust-2021-spring-update