The Great Malaise: First the US and the UK, France next


We are living in the midst of the Great Malaise, the time of cynicism, disenchantment and distrust. The elites are revolting against the masses and the masses are revolting against the elites. Populism is on the rise, fuelled by economic uncertainty, if not the perception of actual decline. Trump and Sanders, Brexit, the advent of outsider, often fringe, political forces throughout Europe are the symptoms of the economic and democratic stagnation.

Via the Atlantic, I’ve came across the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, based on the polling of 33,000 people in 28 countries. It’s a fascinating piece of research, more so because by dividing the respondents into “Informed Public” (15 per cent of the population; college educated, in the top quantile of household income, strong news consumers) and “Mass Population” (the other 85 per cent) it highlights the growing disparity of views between the elites and the masses, specifically regarding public trust in four institutions: government, business, media and NGOs.

Not wanting to pre-empt your browsing pleasure, but… Even if I did not know anything else actually going on in the news, just by looking at these results I would say: France. Watch this space. If you think that the United States and Great Britain have been experiencing considerable political upheavals, France will at least match if not surpass the dreaded Anglo-Saxons in the chaos stakes.

The most important take-out – the biggest percentage change in the size of “the trust gap” between Informed Public and Mass Population between 2012 and 2016 are in France, the US and Britain.


Secondly, the actual trust gap is at the moment the biggest in the same three countries, except in a slightly different order: the US, Britain and France. Note also that Australia is currently on roughly the same high level, which however did not change much since 2012 – we have been steadily and stably divided.


When you look at the trust gap between the top and the bottom income quantile, the gap is massive in the US and France, quite significant in Britain, and among the smallest ones in Australia.


Lastly, Edelman looked at the differences in the levels of optimism about the future between the Informed Public and Mass Population (“do you believe you and your family will be better off in five years’ time”). Once again, the results are revealing. Putting aside Poland, where the gap is the biggest, the US and Great Britain scare the second and the third.


Interestingly, the developing world seems to be in general quite optimistic, and with only small differences between the elites and the rest. The Great Malaise appears to be largely the condition of the developed world, including strongly the English-speaking world. You will notice that Australians are the fifth most pessimistic among the 28 nations polled. You will also notice that France is the second most pessimistic nation. Combine that pessimism (shared almost equally across their whole society) with the levels of distrust in public institutions, and the trust gap between the elites and the rest, and you now know why I’m foreseeing a lot of political hurt for France in the near future.

The overall picture is far from doom and gloom. Among Edelman’s other findings:

  • the levels of trust have been increasing since the bottom a few years ago – in both Informed Public and Mass Population, and for all four categories: government, business, media and NGOs.
  • business experienced the largest increase in trust, government the lowest.
  • business is more trusted in the developing than the developed world. Oh, how the times have changed.

Based on this brief snapshot, I foresee that political instability in Australia will be of a more boring variety than in other parts of the Anglosphere; vide the contrast between the tedious federal election and its aftermath and the raucousness of the US presidential contest and Brexit. A good news, of sorts.