Pessimism on the rise in German society amid Polarization

  • Pessimistic outlook for the future: Only 15% of German respondents think they and their family will be better off in five years. 66% say Germany is more divided than in the past. 
  • Vicious circle of polarization: Germany at a crossroads – in danger of severe polarization; course is not yet irreversible, however. 
  • Businesses with a leadership mandate: Those surveyed in this country have a clear mandate for business and CEOs to increase their social commitment and counteract the social divide.


Frankfurt am Main, January 26, 2023 - The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer showcases the threat of polarization in society, putting trust to the test. For the 23rd edition of the report, more than 32,000 people in 28 markets were surveyed about their trust in the institutions of government, media, business and NGOs.

No trust in German institutions
Looking at the previous year, institutions in this country gained little or no trust among the general population. For example, only the business community made it from the distrust zone to the neutral zone (50%; + 2 percentage points compared to 2022). It is followed by the government (47%; unchanged from 2022), the media (47%; unchanged from 2022) and NGOs (41%; + 1 percentage point from 2022). As in the past, business alone is seen as acting both ethically and competently.

Economic optimism at all-time low
In addition to the lack of trust in social institutions among those surveyed in this country, the outlook for the next five years is also more negative than ever:  Only 15% think that they and their family will be better off in five years. This is a low not only in Germany: in no other developed country surveyed are more than 36% of people confident that their family will be better off in five years. 

Possible factors for the gloomy outlook are high personal economic fears as well as societal, existential fears. In this country, for example, 80% of employees worry about losing their job and 69% of the general population worry about inflation. A look at the social fears clearly shows a reflection of the current geopolitical challenges: 73% worry about climate change, 68% about nuclear war, 62% about food shortages and 61% about energy shortages.

Mistrust and pessimism breeding ground for polarization
The influence that fears and mistrust have on the basic mood of Germans is shown by the question of how divided the respondents see their country and whether they perceive this to be surmountable. The results are worrying. Germany, for example, is at a crossroads alongside countries such as France, Great Britain, the Netherlands as well as Italy. People consider it very difficult, but not impossible, to overcome the divisions. However, there is a danger that society will become so divided that it will no longer be able to overcome the divisions. This is the case, for example, with countries such as Argentina, Colombia, the United States, South Africa as well as Spain and Sweden, where the social fronts have already hardened significantly.

"The main global drivers of polarization are a lack of trust in the respective governments, a lack of a common identity and systemic injustice. Added to this are the aforementioned economic pessimism, societal fears and distrust in the media. The crux of the matter is that the intensity of polarization has an impact on trust. Countries whose people see their country as polarized place less trust in institutions, which in turn reinforces polarization – a vicious circle,"

says Christiane Schulz.

Social fabric under pressure
The effects of social division in Germany are having a detrimental impact on social cohesion. For example, more than two-thirds of people in this country (70%) say that the lack of mutual respect has never been greater. 62% say that the social fabric is too weak to serve as a foundation for unity and common purpose.

On an interpersonal level, the picture is alarming: Only 26% of German respondents who feel strongly about a societal issue say they would help people who disagree with them on that issue if they needed help, only 23% would accept them as neighbors, and only 26% would still want dissenters as work colleagues.

Business must continue to move forward for optimistic future
Respondents give German business in particular a mandate to change that.  A clear majority of people in this country want business to be more engaged on a range of social challenges. Respondents expect CEOs to take a public stand on the treatment of employees (88%), climate change (80%) and the wealth gap (77%). In addition, business and government should work together as partners. Germans would like to see more sustainable practices across issues such as: Energy scarcity, access to healthcare or climate change.

"In order to succeed in reviving economic optimism, CEOs must do their homework. For respondents, this includes paying fair salaries (79%), retraining employees (73%) and paying their fair share of corporate taxes (69%). In polarized societies, business must be a force for moderation and consensus building. It plays an important role in the information ecosystem and must be a source of reliable information. For companies, this means promoting civil discourse and speaking out forcefully against false sources of information,"

says Christiane Schulz, CEO Edelman Germany.


Press contact

Anna-Lena Schildt, Senior PR & Marketing Manager Germany
Tel.: +49 (0)40 35 62 06-072

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