Public lacks faith in government, business

DAVOS, Switzerland — In most of the world, people don’t trust their governments and are losing faith in their business leaders amid economic stagnation and fears of terrorism and impending war, according to a new global survey.

Although lots of Americans share those views, the poll also exposed a rift between the United States and the rest of the world: While 75 percent of Americans think U.S. leaders can master the challenges of 2003, only 27 percent of non-Americans think American leaders can cope.

The results are worrying for the World Economic Forum, an annual international gathering of the corporate and political elite.Their pessimism is a reversal from just three years ago, when the forum’s participants were widely revered as superheroes of a new economy and global economic boom.

The findings of the poll, which was commissioned by the forum, reflect the public’s shaky faith in the leaders who preside over declining stock markets, growing joblessness and the rise of terrorism.

“We have in fact made a mess of the world,” Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad said in opening remarks Thursday. “We are not much more capable of managing our affairs than Stone Age people.”

The poll of 36,000 people in 47 countries, taken over the last few months, asked which institutions they trusted to operate in the best interests of society.

The military topped their list, although results were skewed by exceptionally strong support for the military in a few countries, including the United States, Israel, India and Pakistan.

After the armed forces, the most trusted institutions were so-called nongovernmental organizations, known as NGOs, such as environmental and social advocacy groups.

Elected parliaments or congresses were at the bottom of the list in many countries, with large companies next to the bottom. Governments ranked in the middle of the 17 categories.

Americans revealed a higher trust in their government and Congress than most countries, reflecting, pollsters said, a spike upward after Sept. 11, 2001.

“It’s an upside-down world,” said Doug Miller, president of Environics International Ltd., the Canadian company that conducted the survey with Gallup International.

“It’s a world in which the people who do not have much power — the NGOs, the United Nations, religious institutions — are the most trusted and the people with the most power are least trusted.”

© 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.