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Just 40% of people say their lives will be ‘better off’ in the next 5 years, a new global survey finds, with trust in business growing and trust in government falling

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global recessionNew research from communications giant Edelman shines a light on growing pessimism, factionalism, and polarization worldwide.

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  • Pessimism and factional tensions are surging ahead of a possible recession this year.
  • Just 40% of respondents in a new global survey believe they’ll be “better off” in the next five years.
  • The annual Edelman Trust Barometer also found growing trust in business versus the public sector.

While war rages in Ukraine, layoffs roil a wide range of corporations and industries, and the threat of deeper economic challenges looms, pessimism and factional tensions are surging worldwide, new research shows.

A survey from communications and PR giant Edelman is illustrating how global jitters about a potential recession are fanning the flames of fear and mistrust. Just four in 10 respondents who participated in the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2023 predicted that they and their families will be “better off” in five years — a dramatic 10-point reduction from last year.

The United States and 23 other countries are at an all-time low in this category, said Edelman, which has published its annual Trust Barometer for more than two decades.

Edelman published its 2023 Trust Barometer this weekend, coinciding with a constellation of other warning signs that further economic pain may be on the way. Last week, Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, joined leaders from fellow Wall Street banks when he told shareholders BofA had come to view a “mild recession” as a “baseline scenario,” according to a Sentieo transcript. And the Wall Street Journal’s latest quarterly survey found a 61% chance of a recession within the coming year. 

The Edelman Trust Barometer, which this year polled more than 32,000 respondents in 28 countries, found that trust is tilting away from the public sector. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they trust businesses, versus 51% who said they trust governmental institutions. In fact, “business increased its ethics score for the third straight year, rising 20 points since 2020,” Edelman said. “It is the only institution viewed as both competent and ethical.”

In a press release, Edelman CEO Richard Edelman said respondents — by a “six-to-one margin” — said they want to see businesses get more engaged on issues like climate change, economic inequality, and workforce reskilling.

The notion that the private sector is benefiting from the public sector’s optics problems may come as a surprise to those who lived through the last economic crisis, when the Great Recession channeled vitriol toward corporate leaders and Wall Street was pilloried for its role in producing economic carnage.

Gulfs and schisms are widening

The rise of “polarization” is setting a fraught mood at a time when political schisms are running deep and people are more likely to feel alienated from those who hold divergent beliefs.

Edelman characterized polarization in three degrees — less polarized, moderately polarized, and severely polarized.

“Severely polarized” indicated that respondents “see deep divisions, and I don’t think we’ll ever get past them.” People in six countries identified their culture as “severely polarized” — the United States, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Colombia, and Argentina.

Meanwhile, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands are “in danger of severe polarization,” the survey found.

Among those who feel strongly about a particular issue, Edelman found, “very few would help, live near, or work with someone who disagreed with their point of view.” Just 30% said they would help someone in need with whom they disagreed, and 20% said they’d live in the same neighborhood as that person or be willing to tolerate them as a coworker.

Dave Samson, Edelman’s global vice chairman for corporate affairs, highlighted the risks of failing to cool rising tensions.

“We are in a period of huge systemic change … with divisive forces fanning economic grievance,” Samson said. “If neglected, the result will be increased levels of polarization, slowing economic growth, deeper discrimination, and an inherent inability to solve problems.”

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