Published in October 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
As the party conference season gets under way, how much will we believe of what politicians and commentators say? Not a lot, according to new YouGov research for Prospect. It will come as little surprise that trust in politicians has declined since the age of innocence, before the Iraq war. What should concern my former media colleagues is that trust in journalists has fallen much more.
Starting early in 2003, YouGov has asked people from time to time how much they trust different groups of communicators, decision-makers and service providers to tell the truth. The table below compares some of the results from the first survey with our latest findings. In almost all cases, trust is down. The decline is greatest (33 points) for journalists who work for ITV News, but also alarming for those at the BBC (21) and broadsheets (24). They are all still trusted more than politicians from any party, but not as massively as they were seven years ago. Trust in tabloid journalists is down just 4 points, but as their original trust rating was already a dire 14 per cent, scope for further decline was limited.
Only Conservatives have seen their trust rating rise since 2003: from a disastrous 20 per cent to a merely terrible 29 per cent. But at least they are now ahead of Lib Dem and Labour politicians (27 per cent and 23 per cent respectively) as well as trade union leaders (26 per cent) and senior civil servants (a truly horrible 19 per cent).
Looking at this and other surveys in this series (full details can be found on YouGov’s website), we find that the general decline in trust in the media and in figures of authority has happened steadily over the past seven years. However, for politicians, there has actually been a slight recovery from their nadir in April 2007—just before an unpopular Tony Blair resigned as prime minister, before David Cameron had detoxified the Conservative brand, and when Ming Campbell was struggling as Lib Dem leader.
YouGov has also found consistently that local people are more trusted than their national leaders: thus GPs, teachers, police constables and local MPs have always scored more highly than those who manage them. The one exception: council officials, as a breed, are as distrusted as those who prowl the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster. We tend to jeer at them as bureaucrats, rather than cheer them as providers of valued local services.