Trust in government is recovering but a new “generational trust gap” is emerging
The 2023 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index™ shows economic anxiety is impacting trust
February 9, 2023 – Toronto, ON – New tracking research shows a recovery of trust in government among Canadians as pandemic fatigue ends and an emerging “generational trust gap” that could upset the electoral map and change how leaders work in Canada. Older generations are more likely to think that governments should play a major role in society, compared to young people – different expectations could lead to different voting priorities.
The 2023 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index – one of the largest annual studies of trust in Canada, which examines trust sources of information, institutions and more – puts aggregate trust among Canadians up five per cent (39 per cent, up from 34 per cent in 2022) – the highest since 2019. The increase was driven by a 15 per cent increase in trust in government and an eight per cent increase in trust in the news media.
“Canadians still trust government over large corporations, but politicians have a lot of work to do in their own trust,” said Bruce MacLellan, President & CEO of Proof Strategies. “While trust is improving as we surface from the darkest hours of the pandemic, we see an emerging tsunami of change with younger generations losing trust and changing expectations,” he added.
The generational trust gap
Across social, economic and electoral questions, there is a widening gap in trust between younger and older generations. When asked if most people can be trusted, 39 per cent of Gen Zs and 45 per cent of millennials said yes, compared to 52 per cent of boomers and 76 per cent of Canadians aged 75 and older. In the wake of COVID-19, 63 per cent of boomers trust the Canadian healthcare system compared to only 45 per cent of millennials. Looking at aggregate trust in the core pillars that underpin society, trust remains flat at 35 per cent of millennials compared to boomers, at 45 per cent. While boomers have changed from a generation previously known for championing “counterculture” to one embracing economic satisfaction – only time will tell if that same shift occurs with millennials and Gen Zs. Ongoing issues such as climate change and unaffordable housing costs create a new paradigm that could be a barrier to trust with younger Canadians.
Additionally, a major generational divide exists in perceptions of the role of government and in satisfaction with politicians. When asked if they think the government plays an important role in providing services to help make Canada better, 51 per cent of Gen Zs said yes compared to 75 per cent of boomers. Similarly, only 27 per cent of Gen Zs think politicians do their best to deliver services efficiently and on time compared to 44 per cent of Canadians aged 75 years and older.
What the generations can agree on is the different actions brands should take to become more trustworthy – 61 per cent of Gen Zs and 62 per cent of boomers are more likely to trust companies that commit to environmental sustainability. Similarly, 56 per cent of millennials and boomers are more likely to trust brands that support charitable causes.
Trust in government improves while trust in its leadership remains low
Trust in the government is improving as the pandemic becomes less threatening. In 2023, 37 per cent of Canadians trust government to be competent and effective, compared to 22 per cent in 2022 – a 15 per cent increase. While Canadian attitudes towards government are more positive, trust in politicians in general remains very low at 22 per cent.
Trust in the Prime Minister has been flat for three years now and is 32 per cent in 2023. Quebec has the highest trust in the Prime Minister at 36 per cent, compared to Prairie residents at 24 per cent. Trust in the Prime Minister among Atlantic Canadians has dropped significantly from 41 per cent in 2022 to 28 per cent in 2023. The overall trust across Canada in Premiers is also at 32 per cent, down from 37 per cent in 2020.
“We continue to find very low trust when we look more deeply at our political system. Only nine per cent of Canadians have “a lot of trust” in federal and provincial leaders to reach collective agreements, with 47 per cent having “some trust.” A majority (56 per cent) say political parties are a divisive force and only 16 per cent say they are a unifying force in our country,” said Genevieve Tomney, Vice President, Public Affairs at Proof Strategies. “Politicians and political parties have a long way to go when it comes to building trust with Canadians.”
Trust is declining in Canada living up to its values
When asked to consider a list of 12 core values, Canadians score most of them lower now than at the start of the pandemic. When asked if Canada is living up to the value of freedom, 59 per cent trust that it is – compared to 73 per cent in 2020. Similarly, 53 per cent trust that Canada is safe, compared to 68 per cent in 2020.
More concerning is how Canadians view the state of democracy in their country. In 2023, fewer than half of Canadians (49 per cent) said that they trust their country to perform as a democracy, down from 65 per cent in 2020.
Among the least trusting are the youngest Canadians. When millennials were asked if they felt like Canada was living up to the value of democracy, 45 per cent said yes compared to 59 per cent of boomers; and 40 per cent of millennials trust Canada to be fair, compared to 48 per cent of boomers.
“We’re seeing lower trust in Canada’s higher values,” added MacLellan. “All leaders need to take note and take action, particularly with the low trust levels among younger Canadians.”
Canadians don’t feel good about the economy
For many Canadians, 2022 was a tough year financially as interest rates climbed, inflation soared, and the economy slowed. When asked if they trusted Canada to deliver economic security, 35 per cent said yes. Trust in the economy is lowest among Gen Z. When asked if they felt satisfied with the economy, 29 per cent of Gen Zs said yes compared to 50 per cent of boomers. Similarly, 34 per cent of Gen Zs said they trust the financial and stock markets compared to 46 per cent of boomers.
To address these issues, Canadians are looking to government leaders. When asked if the federal government has a place in strengthening our economy, 76 per cent of Canadians agreed that it should play a major role.
The Bank of Canada has had a high profile recently for its management of interest rates, and trust in the Canadian institution is stable at 49 per cent compared to 53 per cent in 2022. By comparison, the cryptocurrency industry is the least trusted Canadian industry at 12 per cent. Grocery retailers are trusted by 47 per cent, telecommunications by 30 per cent, oil and gas companies by 26 per cent and online gambling providers by 14 per cent.
Gen Zs expect CEOs to speak on issues
A slim majority of Canadians at 53 per cent expect business leaders to speak out regularly on important issues like climate change, racism, and social equity. However, younger Canadians have higher expectations. 61 per cent of Gen Zs expect business leaders to speak out, compared to less than half of boomers at 48 per cent.
Other survey findings:
- Among brands tested, the Canadian Red Cross had the highest trust by Canadians at 62 per cent and Facebook is one of the least trusted organizations at 22 per cent.
- Trust in the Canadian military has increased from 52 per cent in 2022 to 57 per cent in 2023.
- Trust in the RCMP increased from 48 per cent in 2022 to 54 per cent in 2023.
- Trust in the news media increased by 8 per cent from last year to be at 43 per cent.
- Canada’s healthcare system is trusted by 58 per cent, the same as last year. Medical doctors (73 per cent) and scientists (69 per cent) remain the two most trusted groups of people for reliable information, with friends and family at 68 per cent.
- Newcomers to Canada continue to be much more trusting than people born in Canada. Relevant to recent interest rate and inflation discussions, 61 per cent of newcomers trust the Bank of Canada compared to 47 per cent of those born here.
About the 2023 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index
The Proof Strategies CanTrust Index, now in its eighth 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 1,502 Canadians between January 5-12 by online panel. The sample is representative of Canadian population statistics by region, age and gender. Our study uses a 7-point scale with 7 being the highest trust and 1 being the lowest. Respondents choosing 7, 6 or 5 result in the percentages of trust used in this report.
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. Learn more at getproof.com and follow Proof Strategies on Twitter and Instagram at @get_proof.
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