TORONTO — Canadians are divided on whether their system of public institutions is working or failing them, according to a new poll.
The findings are part of communications marketing firm Edelman's annual Trust Barometer, a sweeping global survey that gauges trust in "the system," defined as governments, media, businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The study, released Thursday, found that trust in these entities in Canada was up compared to last year, but it also noted that the majority of the country's "mass population" felt it would be worse off in the next five years.
Edelman's survey, which polled 33,000 people in 27 countries, divided respondents into two categories: the "informed public" were people with higher education, income and media consumption, while the mass population was everyone else. In Canada, 200 out of 1,500 Canadians surveyed fell into the latter category.
"The reason for doing that is because I think that it provides a more accurate picture of how Canadians are feeling, and how they view the world and their trust in institutions, based on their level of education, income, as well as their consumption habits of media," Kimmel said.
According to Edelman's data, that picture shows a growing gap in trust in "the system" — a term the firm used in its survey to represent four public institutions.
Both the mass population and the informed public showed more trust in the system in this year's survey compared to 2018. But for the latter group, the increase was more substantial. This has led to what Kimmel and the firm are calling a "trust inequality gap" — the second largest in all of the 27 surveyed countries.
Kimmel noted this divide should be seen as a warning sign.
"What we're seeing is the difference between the haves and the have-nots," she said.
While both groups of Canadians agreed that there was injustice in the country, the survey found that half of the mass population believes the "system" is failing them, compared to 36 per cent of the informed public.
The data also points to a deep sense of pessimism among Canadians. Sixty-six per cent of Canada's mass population said they felt they and their families will not be better off in five years, compared to 47 per cent of the informed public.
Kimmel said job security plays a massive role in these anxieties. She noted that more than half of respondents worried about not having the right skills to secure a well-paying job and feared that automation would inevitably take their positions away.
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More Canadians engaged with media
In response to these fears and anxieties, Kimmel said more Canadians are turning to the media and authority figures for answers.
"What it's compelling people to do is to seek out more sources of information that they view as credible that will empower them to formulate their own opinions and perspectives around the issues that matter most to them," she said.
This has led to a jump in media engagement. Forty-two per cent of respondents were described as "consumers" of news, meaning they checked it weekly or more.
Kimmel said this was reassuring, since her team was "shocked" last year when it found that 54 per cent of the Canadian general population was "disengaged," or consuming news less than weekly.
But not all news sources are considered equally trustworthy to Canadians, the survey shows.
Traditional media — newspapers, TV networks, radio stations and magazines — were seen as the most trustworthy to 71 per cent of respondents, while online-only media outlets were trustworthy to 49 per cent.
At the bottom of the barrel is social media as the least trusted source of information, for the second year in a row. Kimmel said that finding could help explain why 71 per cent of respondents said they were afraid of fake news being used as a "weapon" in an election year.
Kimmel said this distrust in social media has led more people to seek out the advice and commentary of figures of authority, which includes academic and technical experts, fellow employees and "regular people." Government officials were seen as trustworthy figures of authority for 38 per cent of respondents.
Respondents' own employers were considered the most trustworthy.