2023 Edelman Trust Barometer: Malaysians Demand Collaboration between Core Institutions to Avoid Further Economic Polarisation

Edelman Malaysia released the findings of their annual Trust Barometer, highlighting an overall decline in trust amongst Government, Businesses, NGOs, and Media. Despite this decrease, Malaysia remains among the top 10 nations globally within trusted territory.

Malaysians’ Trust in Institutions

According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, Malaysia’s Trust Index Score has decreased by three points from its 2022 score, averaging at 62 points. As a result, Malaysia dropped three places from its position last year, now ranking 9th on the Global Trust Index.

Malaysia’s core institutions saw a decline in trust, with the government and media falling below the trusted region (above 59 points) into neutral territory, at 54 and 55 points respectively. The government’s trust level has plummeted by 8 points to 54, while the media’s score dropped by 5 points to 55, in comparison to 2022.

Meanwhile, businesses and NGOs saw a slight drop in trust by 2 and 1 points, respectively, with trust levels currently at 68% and 69%. Despite the decrease, businesses and NGOs are still regarded as the most trusted institutions in Malaysia.

The Drop of Economic Optimism

Malaysians’ top five fears are consistent with those of other countries: slow economic development, worsening prejudice/discrimination, inability to address societal challenges, the end of democracy, and personal financial struggles.

One of the reasons cited behind Malaysians’ growing fears is the country’s weakening economic landscape, both in the country and around the world seeing a collapse in economic optimism this year.

Only 35% of Malaysians believe they and their families will be better off in five years, representing a 20-point decline from 2022. This ties in with the rise of citizens’ personal anxieties, which are now on par with societal existential fears.

In response, 96% Malaysians are concerned about losing their jobs due to the nation’s economic decline, with climate change (82%) and the possibility of nuclear war (79%) being persistent worries.

These economic views and fears are shared globally, leading to the onus being put on institutions to provide solutions to restore people’s economic optimism.

Malaysia Less Polarised through Rising Economic Fears May Lead to Division

The 2023 Trust Barometer shows Malaysia as less polarised than other countries. However, Malaysia has seen a hyper-localisation of trust within their communities.

When asked if the core institutions were seen as unifying or divisive forces, Malaysians viewed journalists (41%), business leaders (46%), NGO leaders (50%), and teachers (66%) as unifying, while the government was seen as a divisive force.

Even though Malaysia is not severely polarised, there is growing concern of a potential weakening of the nation’s social fabric, with a perceived lack of civility and mutual respect (74%).

There are also growing sentiments of mass-class divide and income-based inequalities – this year’s report shows an 11-point difference between the high-income class (66 points) and the low-income mass (55 points), which sit within the trust and neutral realities, respectively.

While still within safe limits, core institutions are encouraged to act early and work towards preventing further societal division and distrust.

“While the global trend of polarisation has yet to be felt in Malaysia, a potential risk of future mass-class divide may arise from the current state of Malaysia’s economy, if left unchecked,” said Christopher de Cruz, Chief Operating Officer of Edelman Malaysia and Head of Crisis for Southeast Asia.

“Since businesses are seen as one of the trusted institutions, there is an increased expectation and social responsibility to help improve the state of the nation, from an economic as well as a social standpoint,” he added.

Businesses Expected to Lead Societal Movements

As businesses are increasingly seen as unifying forces, citizens look up to CEOs to take the lead in driving societal movements to restore economic confidence. This is critical to address the nation’s economic anxieties and to prevent further societal fragmentation.

In contrast to media and government, businesses and NGOs are increasingly perceived as competent and ethical, with a 14-point increase in ethics since 2020. While Malaysia is ranked 8th among nations with high trust towards My Employer (80 points), citizens believe that more needs to be done to address pressing societal issues, including climate change, economic inequality, healthcare access, energy shortages, and trustworthy information.

In the eyes of the citizens, businesses must take a more active role in addressing societal issues and use their brand influence to foster a sense of unity and shared identity among Malaysians.

Notably, a large percentage of Malaysians, namely 63%, base their purchasing decisions and endorse brands that align with their personal values, while 69% consider a company’s societal impact before accepting a job offer. This presents a unique opportunity for businesses to align themselves with the public’s beliefs and promote progress through societal movements.

Moreover, Malaysians are of the opinion that institutions are not doing enough to address societal issues, and they demand that businesses engage more actively on critical matters such as climate change (45%), energy shortages (43%), economic inequality (47%), healthcare access (38%), and trustworthy information (38%).

The 2023 Trust Barometer also shows that there has been a significant increase of over 30 points in all five issues over the 2022 data.

As a result, 74% Malaysians agree that brands can play a pivotal role in strengthening the social fabric by celebrating what brings the nation together and emphasising citizens’ everyday interests. This highlights the importance of businesses using their brands’ power to create a sense of togetherness through a shared identity within the nation.

A Demand for Businesses and Government Collaboration to Restore Economic Optimism

Envisioning a positive outcome, Malaysians are optimistic of the potential for collaboration between the government and businesses, believing that such collaborations are 3x more likely to achieve optimal societal results. With businesses being one of the more trusted institutions, 61% of Malaysians agree that it is possible for a business to address societal issues without being seen as politicised.

To further improve economic optimism, 90% of Malaysians expect CEOs to take a public stand on various issues such as employees’ treatment, discrimination, the wealth gap, climate change, and immigration. Additionally, CEOs are expected to pay fair wages (87%), ensure their home communities are safe and thriving (86%), pay fair corporate taxes (86%), and retrain employees (78%).

As evidenced by a 66% vote in favour of politicians and media promoting consensus and cooperation, there is a call to action for all institutions to demonstrate tangible progress of rebuilding the nation’s trust, starting with addressing the mass-class divide and combatting the cycle of polarisation.

de Cruz added, “While the score has dipped in the past year, trust in government is still in the neutral zone. To build greater trust, businesses and the government should identify their roles and work collaboratively to increase the nation’s confidence in the government.

To create a brighter vision for the future, the government and businesses must work together to take measures to improve economic optimism and foster greater trust within the nation. Proactive efforts are needed to prevent further polarisation and increase societal movement towards a more united Malaysia.

We need to remember that for all institutions, lasting trust is the strongest insurance against competitive disruption, the antidote to consumer indifference, and the best path to continued growth. Without trust, credibility is lost, and reputation can be threatened.”

The 2023 Edelman Malaysia Trust Barometer was launched through a closed panel discussion speaking on how core institutions can impact the drivers of trust within a Malaysian context.

The panel was seated by Khairy Jamaluddin, former Minister of Health, Rafiza Ghazali, Director, Digital Banking of KAF Investment, Niloy Banerjee, Resident Representative of UNDP Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and Sharala Axryd Founder of Center of Applied Science, and moderated by broadcast journalist Tehmina Kaoosji.

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