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Nearly one in four voters shunned both major parties and sent their first preference elsewhere. Photo: Alex EllinghausenMalcolm Turnbull says Australia has a trust problem. A few days after nearly one in four voters shunned the major parties and directed their first preference elsewhere, a chastened Prime Minister admitted citizens were disillusioned with politics. He acknowledged a “general distrust or sense of disenfranchisement” from government.
Nanjing Night Net

But the dissatisfaction goes even further. There’s also widespread suspicion of business, the media and even non-government organisations. A barometer of public trust taken in 28 countries by the global public relations firm, Edelman, recently ranked Australia among 17 “distruster” nations where average level of trust in key institutions (governments, business, media and NGOs) was below 50 per cent.

The survey revealed a crucial dimension to Australia’s trust deficit – it is not uniform. A wealthy, media-savvy elite now has far more confidence in public institutions than the rest of the population does.

The average level of trust among a group described as the “informed public” was 63 per cent compared with but just 47 per cent among the “mass population”. (It defines the “informed public” as those with a degree, who consume a lot of news media and are in the top 25 per cent of household income for their age group, while the “mass population” is the remaining 85 per cent of the population).

The gap between those two groups in Australia has widened from 14 to 16 percentage points since 2012. This reflects an international trend – the average gap between elite levels of trust in institutions and the mass population in the nations surveyed is now at its widest since the Edelman Trust Index first started measuring trust levels four years ago.

Despite 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth the fissure is especially wide in Australia, only the US (20 points) and UK (17 points) had a bigger trust gap between informed and mass populations. Australia’s trust gap was especially large among young adults aged 25-34. In most emerging nations, including China, South Africa and Brazil, the trust gap between informed and mass populations was smaller than Australia’s.

There’s a strong economic dimension to this “inequality of trust”. High-income earners had a larger average level trust in key public institutions than low-income earners. When asked about Australia’s economic prospects over the next five years the “informed public” was 10 percentage points more optimistic than the mass population (41 versus 31 per cent). Although neither result was particularly encouraging – Australia was the fourth least optimistic nation in the survey after Japan, France and Germany.

There’s every chance the trust gap between wealthy, well-informed elites and the rest of Australia’s population will continue to grow. Stand by for more political instability if it does.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


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