The Mistrust Variant: Anxiety and Stress Wearing Down Trust among Canadians
The 2022 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index™ shows anxiety and stress is eroding trust
February 9, 2022 – Toronto, ON – After almost two years of the pandemic, trust is wearing thin in Canada. Omicron, anxiety and political divisions are taking a toll. The 2022 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index puts overall trust among Canadians at just 34 per cent, down from 37 per cent a year ago and 45 per cent in 2018. The overall decline was driven mostly by a sharp 10 per cent decline in trust in government in the past year. COVID-19 has also made Canadians feel more divided, with 37 per cent reporting they feel less “together and united” – an 11-point increase from 2021.
These findings come from the 2022 CanTrust Index, one of the largest annual studies on trust in Canada, which examines trust in leaders, sources of information, institutions and more. The survey of 1,536 Canadians was conducted January 4-16, 2022, during the wave of illness and new restrictions caused by the Omicron variant.
“Almost half of Canadians, at 46 per cent, report they continue to feel anxiety and stress from the pandemic, and we are seeing what we refer to as the mistrust variant emerging as COVID-19 evolves,” said Bruce MacLellan, President & CEO of Proof Strategies. “Frustration and inconsistent decision-making from the top-down has weakened trust in our political leaders far more than it has in our scientific and medical advisors.”
The three most trusted sources of “reliable information” continue to be doctors at 78 per cent, scientists at 75 per cent and family members at 65 per cent. “In an age where leadership and truth have decoupled, the vast majority of Canadians still trust science and facts,” MacLellan added.
Trust is dropping in government and public leaders
Trust in government is at an all-time low. Only 22 per cent of Canadians trust government to do what is right for Canada, a 10-point drop from 2021. When asked about sources of reliable information, trust in politicians remains at an extremely low 18 per cent.
“Trust in Canada’s Prime Minister is now at 33 per cent and trust in provincial and territorial leaders is at 32 per cent. It’s clear that our elected leaders, no matter their political stripe, have a steep hill to climb when it comes to earning the public’s trust,” said Genevieve Tomney, Vice President, Public Affairs at Proof Strategies. “Governments need to listen to Canadians, understand their concerns, and act on them.”
Quebec residents have the highest trust in their Premier at 42 per cent, compared to Ontario at 30 per cent and Alberta at 17 per cent.
The link between anxiety and stress and trust
This year’s study also gauges respondents’ level of anxiety and stress at distinct stages of the pandemic and finds striking correlations between anxiety levels and trust.
Approximately one-third (30 per cent) of Canadians who say they did feel anxious about the pandemic at first but now feel better show higher levels of trust in most areas of the survey, compared to the almost half (46 per cent) of respondents who say they remain stressed and anxious.
Trust in provincial Medical Officers of Health to manage Omicron is at 64 per cent for the “no longer anxious” and only 50 per cent for those people who report remaining anxious and stressed. Regarding the Canadian healthcare system, trust by anxious and stressed people is 56 per cent compared to 64 per cent for people who feel better.
“In Canada today, the most trusting people are those who have overcome anxiety and stress (30 per cent) and the least trusting are those who are still worried (46 per cent) and those who never worried (24 per cent),” said MacLellan. “The trust muscles of those who are still worried are fatigued, and the trust muscles of those that never worried atrophied long before the pandemic.”
Trust in healthcare
Canadian healthcare remains a trust leader but is seeing erosion in this year’s study. With more COVID cases and postponed surgeries and services, trust in the Canadian healthcare system has declined to 58 per cent in 2022, a five-point drop from last year. The most noticeable drops in trust are among older generations – those most likely to need health services during the pandemic and perhaps those who are experiencing service cancellations in hospitals due to COVID-related admissions. Trust in healthcare among Boomers dropped eight points to 62 per cent in 2022. Older Canadians (age 75+) recorded a nine-point drop, down to 69 per cent.
Trust in local hospitals remains steady across the country at 64 per cent, compared to 67 per cent in 2021.
Omicron and trust…
The Omicron variant has forced Canadians to grapple with ever-changing public health restrictions – despite Canadians being divided on its severity.
Almost half of Canadians (48 per cent) see Omicron as less of a health risk — or a similar health risk – to the public compared to COVID-19 and prior variants. But if Canadians view Omicron as less of a health risk, it hasn’t improved their economic outlook and pandemic anxiety levels. 36 per cent of Canadians say they are more pessimistic about the economy in 2022 due to Omicron.
Personal satisfaction plummets
With the proliferation of Omicron, as well as declining trust in government and public institutions, personal satisfaction among Canadians has dropped. When asked about their own lives, just 44 per cent of Canadians feel “socially satisfied,” down 10 points from 2021. Similarly, just 49 per cent feel “personally satisfied,” down five points from 2021; and 47 per cent feel “satisfied educationally,” a seven-point drop from 2021.
Trust in employers goes up
Canada’s employees have given higher grades to employers about their capacity to build trust during this pandemic. Overall, employees give their own employers a “C” grade in 2022, up from a “D” grade in January 2021. With trust growth among employees in all sectors, this improvement suggests employers have adjusted to become more sensitive and supportive as the pandemic has unfolded.
Other Survey Findings
- The Canadian Red Cross is the most trusted organization by Canadians at 61 per cent compared to Facebook, which remains the least trusted at 23 per cent.
- Trust in the Canadian military has dropped from 58 per cent in 2021 to 52 per cent in 2022, pulled down by low trust in Canada’s military leadership at 39 per cent.
- The Canadian financial and stock markets are trusted by 40 per cent, similar to 43 per cent in 2021. Trust in the Bank of Canada remains the same at 53 per cent.
- Trust in NGOs (registered charities and not-for-profits) is stable at 47 per cent, halting a worrisome drop in 2020.
- Trust in Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has dropped slightly from 63 per cent in 2021 to 58 per cent in 2022, and Provincial Medical Health Officers have dropped from an average from 61 per cent to 57 per cent.
- Canadians have more trust in “ordinary citizens” to address racism and inequality (68 per cent) than provincial governments and the federal government, both at 62 per cent.
About the 2022 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index
The Proof Strategies CanTrust Index, now in its 7th year, is a leading source of research and understanding of trust in Canada. We study and analyze topics, institutions, events and population segments unique to Canada and surveyed 1,536 Canadians between January 4-16 by online panel. The sample is representative of Canadian population statistics by region, age and gender.
About Proof Strategies
For leaders responsible for managing, protecting, and building organizations and brands, Proof Strategies is a public relations, government relations and communications partner that “asks better questions” to create insight, grow trust and support clients. Founded in 1994, the independent agency has earned more than 300 awards for client work and industry leadership, including Best Workplace in Canada in 2010 by Great Place to Work™, Agency Team of the Year in 2020 by the Canadian Public Relations Society and Caring Company Certification in 2022 by Imagine Canada. Proof has been carbon neutral since 2008.
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