Trust in Singapore government rises after 3-year decline: survey

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After a three-year decline, a survey has shown an increase in Singaporeans trusting the government (Yahoo! file photo)

By Bryan Kwa

Trust in the government of Singapore has risen after declining for three consecutive years, a survey by public relations firm Edelman has found.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, the firm’s 16th annual trust and credibility survey, found that 74 per cent of the general population in Singapore trust the government. This is an increase of four percentage points from the previous year’s result. Globally, trust in government rose by one percentage point from 2015 to 2016.

In the past three years, the survey found a decline in Singaporeans’ trust with their government, from 82 per cent in 2013 to 70 per cent in 2015. The trend reversal comes after the ruling People’s Action Party scored a landslide victory in the 2015 General Election – after losing two by-elections and a Group Representation Constituency in the 2011 General Election. The survey was conducted last October.

Dr Tan Ern Ser, Associate Professor of Sociology at the National University of Singapore, is “not surprised” that trust in the government of Singapore went up “given the PAP government’s significant response to the various hot button issues of GE2011, be it housing, transport, or healthcare,” he told Yahoo Singapore.

Dr Tan, who was not involved in the survey, said there is “some correlation obviously” between the survey result and that of GE2015. “Many have attributed it in part to SG50, and the passing of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in addition to the slew of measures, such as the Pioneer Generation Package, MediShield Life, income ceiling for HDB eligibility, etc. In hindsight, the election results were not surprising.”

‘Inequality of trust’

The survey found that the informed public is more optimistic about the future than the mass population. Globally, 55 per cent of the informed public believe they and their families will be better off in five years’ time as compared to 47 per cent of the mass population.

In Singapore, 52 per cent of the informed public believe they and their families will be better off in five years’ time as compared to 46 per cent of the mass population.

Informed public is defined in the survey as those who are aged 25 to 64, college-educated and whose household income is in the top 25 percent for their age in their country. This group also has significant media consumption and engagement in business news and public policy.

Dr Tan reckoned that the informed public is more optimistic “because they have some confidence that Singapore can overcome the challenges, just as it had done so in the past, and given that the Government has a game plan to help Singapore and Singaporeans remain relevant.”

He added, “Also, being highly educated, they believe that they have the capacity and potential to remain employable.”

“As for the mass public, there could be some concern about not being able to upgrade themselves fast enough to stay relevant and cope with the high cost of living,” he said.

In general, the trust gap between the informed public and mass population is 12 percentage points, the largest ever in the survey’s history. While trust levels among informed public are the highest ever, they are below 50 per cent for the mass population in over 60 per cent of the countries surveyed, having barely moved since the Great Recession.

The trust disparity has widened and is now at double-digit levels in more than half of the countries surveyed. In the Asia-Pacific, the largest divides are in India (16 points) and Australia (16 points), followed by China (11 points).

“We are now observing the inequality of trust around the world. This brings a number of potential consequences including the rise of populist politicians, the blocking of innovation and the onset of protectionism and nativism,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman.

According to the firm, the widening gulf is directly linked to income inequality in several APAC countries with India (22 points), Singapore (17 points) and Japan (17 points) exhibiting the largest disparities.

Opportunity for business to lead change

Trust in business increased in eight of the nine Asia-Pacific countries surveyed, with trust in business highest in Indonesia (71 per cent), China (70 per cent) and India (69 per cent).

Businesses therefore have a strong opportunity to lead change in the Asian region, said the firm.

60 per cent of the general population in Singapore trust business – an increase from the previous result of 57 per cent in 2015.

Societal expectations for businesses vary, however, with protecting and improving the environment being the most important in China, South Korea and Japan and access to healthcare being the most important in India and Hong Kong.

Access to education and training is the most important issue for business to address in Singapore.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed more than 33,000 respondents across 28 countries.

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