EXCLUSIVE: Edelman CEO Says Decline in Trust Tied to Polarization: ‘We Lack Common Facts and Have a Fundamental Difference of Interpretation of Facts’

Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, one of the largest and most powerful public relations and marketing communications firms in the world, told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview that the decline of trust in the United States is tied to polarization.

“We lack common facts and have a fundamental difference of interpretation of facts,” Edelman told Breitbart News in an exchange of emails over the weekend.

Edelman’s company sponsors The Edelman Trust Barometer 2018, the 18th annual edition of a worldwide survey conducted each year, which was released last week and concluded “that trust in the U.S. has suffered the largest-ever-recorded drop in the survey’s history among the general population.”

This year’s online survey of 33,000 respondents in 28 countries around the world, including the United States and Canada, (1,150 per country) was conducted between October 28 and November 20, 2017.

Edelman has more than 5,000 employees and its annual revenues were in excess of $800 million in 2016. The firm’s clients include multinational Fortune 500 companies, such as Starbucks, Heinz, and Microsoft, as well as prominent NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

“The Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 has two big stories: the implosion of trust in the United States and the decline of trust in the Global Media,” CEO Edelman said in a video accompanying the release of the study.

By “implosion of trust in the United States,” Edelman is referring to an implosion of trust in American institutions by citizens of our country, as opposed to trust in the United States government by foreign governments.

Edelman continued:

America is absolutely the biggest decline in trust we’ve ever seen in a single country in one year

We see that trust is driven down by a loss of confidence in government. A 30 point drop among opinion formers.  A 14 point drop in the general populace. Every other institution followed government downward.

America, at the moment, is at sea, looking for stability.

That’s very much linked to a second problem, which is a lack in belief in media.

Media today is the least trusted institution in the world, for the first time. And that’s really because of loss of confidence in search and social, tied to a loss of confidence in “a person like yourself.”

At the same time, we see a rise in fake news. We don’t have shared facts. Therefore, we lack rational discourse.

What we observe is a desire for experts, an interest in knowledge, a real search for credibility.

Therefore, it is incumbent on every institution to fill the void, particularly in social, for quality information, and become, in a way, its own media company. And help everyone be able to make proper decisions about their brands, and about their leaders.

Silence is a tax on truth. And we have to speak up.


Breitbart News pressed CEO Edelman in a series of emails exchanged over the weekend on his interpretation of the survey day, summarized in these three questions and answers:

BREITBART NEWS: You say at the very beginning of your video accompanying the release of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 that the big story of the survey is the implosion of trust in the United States, which is “driven down by a loss of confidence in government. A 30 point drop among opinion formers. A 14 point drop in the general populace.”

Have you considered the possibility that you have misinterpreted the survey data and the big story is not the uniform implosion of trust in government but rather the further fracturing and polarization of the United States along two distinctly divergent world views reflected in your survey- a 22 percent drop in ‘trust in govt’ among Hillary Clinton supporters and no change or slight increase among Trump supporters?

(Your survey data shows a 22 percent drop in trust in government in one year among Hillary Clinton supporters, no drop among Trump supporters. As I wrote at Breitbart on Friday, a Morning Consult Poll shows similar results when it comes to “confidence in the presidency”; way up among Republicans, way down among Democrats.)

EDELMAN: Agree on polarization in US. True that trust in government down among Clinton voters and slightly up among Trump voters. Amazingly both now at 35 percent trust in government, which is quite low number.

BREITBART NEWS: You also say “Media today is the least trusted institution in the world… and that’s really because of loss of confidence in search and social.” Your survey also shows that, in the United States “trust in journalism” is 11 percent higher than trust in platforms. Worldwide, “trust in journalism” is up 5 percent, though I didn’t see in the data if that increase applies to the United States as well.

Among our readers, trust in “journalism” as practiced at CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. is virtually nil.

Does the underlying data on trust in journalism in the United States show a polarization between Trump supporters and Clinton supporters?

EDELMAN: Key difference between Clinton voter and Trump voter is in trust in media. For Clinton voter up 11 points to 61 percent and for Trump voter only at 27 percent. 34 point difference.

Trust in journalism down 2 points overall and trust in platforms down 11 points with biggest drop in social media.

BREITBART NEWS: You also say “at the same time, we see a rise in fake news. We don’t have shared facts. Therefore, we lack rational discourse.”

Have you considered the possibility that the reason we lack rational discourse is NOT that we don’t have shared facts, but that we have two completely divergent world views that interpret the same facts differently?

EDELMAN: I do think that we lack common facts and that we have a fundamental difference of interpretation of facts. So both problems.

In a statement accompanying the release of the poll, Edelman added:

Trust among the general population fell nine points to 43, placing it in the lower quarter of the 28-country Trust Index. Trust among the informed public in the U.S. imploded, plunging 23 points to 45, making it now the lowest of the 28 countries surveyed, below Russia and South Africa.

The collapse of trust in the U.S. is driven by a staggering lack of faith in government, which fell 14 points to 33 percent among the general population, and 30 points to 33 percent among the informed public. The remaining institutions of business, media and NGOs also experienced declines of 10 to 20 points. These decreases have all but eliminated last year’s 21-point trust gap between the general population and informed public in the U.S.

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” CEO Edelman said in the statement.

“This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs. The root cause of this fall is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse,” Edelman added.

Edelman also put forward the company’s views on the role of business:

Business is now expected to be an agent of change. The employer is the new safe house in global governance, with 72 percent of respondents saying that they trust their own company. And 64 percent believe a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.

This past year saw CEO credibility rise sharply by seven points to 44 percent after a number of high-profile business leaders voiced their positions on the issues of the day. Nearly two-thirds of respondents say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for government, which now ranks significantly below business in trust in 20 markets. This show of faith comes with new expectations; building trust (69 percent) is now the No. 1 job for CEOs, surpassing producing high-quality products and services (68 percent).

“Trust is only going to be regained when the truth moves back to center stage. Institutions must answer the public’s call for providing factually accurate, timely information and joining the public debate. Media cannot do it alone because of political and financial constraints. Every institution must contribute to the education of the populace,” Edelman continued.

Edelman’s website states the company is a leader in “Global Citizenship to expand into Corporate Social Responsibility.”

A registered Republican, CEO Edelman told Breitbart News “I give to moderates in both parties.”

At the federal level, Edelman has supported mostly Democratic candidates, while at the state level he has backed a number of Republican governors and gubernatorial candidates.

His contributions to federal level Democratic candidates included donations to President Barack Obama’s campaign in both 2008 and 2012 (including $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund 2012).

Other Democrats who he has contributed to include Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). His contributions to federal level Republican candidates included $1,000 to Republican Rick Lazio, who unsuccessfully challenged Hillary Clinton in the 2000 U.S. Senate election in New York,  $1,000 to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) in 2011, and $1,000 to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) in 2004.

At the state level, Edelman said he gave $10,000 to the campaign of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois, as well as to Republican Lazio’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in New York in 2010, and helped unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley in Connecticut in 2014 “with money and brainstorm[ing] on positioning.” He “also gave to Mitch Daniels and George Pataki several times” and “tried to get Mitch to run for president.”

A 1976 graduate of Harvard College who earned an M.B.A. in 1978 from Harvard Business School, Richard Edelman is the son of Daniel Edelman, who founded Edelman in 1952. He joined the family business in 1978, became president in 1995, and CEO in 1997.


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