How much do we trust each other?
Interpersonal trust is a known indicator of national well-being, as it has a healthy influence on society’s development. The greater the trust among individuals, the higher the feeling of both common and individual well-being. The higher the feeling of trust towards institutions and organizations interacting with society, the greater the sense of common well-being. This has been measured across time through public opinion surveys applied by a broad number of market and opinion research agencies, implementing diverse methodologies.
Public opinion surveys, both in Latin America and globally, repeatedly monitor the population’s levels of trust towards other individuals as well as institutions. Consequently, trust scores appear to be one of the key indicators to assess of the state of development of a society.
But what elements integrate and motivate trust, according to different sources of opinions? Applying the method of opposites, the following seem to be some of the key elements that negatively affect trust:
• Coercion: interpreted as a state or institutionally-imposed obligation, or suppression of freedom of choice.
• Absence of objective information to support people’s Individual and collective decision making within the framework of their convenience.
• Dissonance between discourse and action or, put differently, between intentions and achievements.
• Absence of consultation and cooperation among individuals for the common good.
• Scarce or nonexistent awareness of the concept that what favors the common good also favors the individual, always within the context that the benefits will embrace the community, without exceptions.
• Lacking opportunities for access to knowledge, thus hindering the development of individual criteria.
Under this context, we can construct a continuum, whereby, on one extreme are placed more functional and freer societies, i.e. those operating under a broad level of collective cooperation, in a spirit of frank and open consultation, with open access to information and with respect for diversity within unity. On the other extreme are the more dysfunctional societies, with restricted freedoms, or where anomie can potentially lead to collective violence, where dissent is criminalized in varying degrees and where access to objective information is restricted. While most societies are perceived as operating somewhere between these two extremes, most people tend to agree that it would be better for the common good to operate closer to the first option and far from the second.
Within this context, global public opinion measurements record data that tell us something about the level of interpersonal trust people across different countries. Following are findings from the World Values Survey showing countries where trusting others scores highest.
Source: World Values Survey 2016
As Latin Americans, it seems quite striking that none of our countries appear at the top of this list.
To get a better grasp on how interpersonal trust levels are performing in our region, we consulted the findings polled by the Latinobarómetro team with whom we have been working over several years. Analyzing regional findings across two decades, the average trust indicators fail to reach 20%, (see following exhibit). Stated more bluntly: the Latinobarómetro scores reveal that, historically, 8 out of 10 Latin Americans distrust their fellow citizens.
Intra-regional variations, as well as the inter-annual ones, are few and tend to respond to circumstantial issues, as was the case of Brazil and its institutional crisis of the last two years. However, there are also low levels of confidence in countries with a stable institutional tradition, as is the case for Costa Rica. Evidently, the findings show that there are cultural variables that are generally common to regional values, which influence the assessment of interpersonal as well as institutional trust within our region.
In the case of Venezuela, 2017 registers an all-time low on interpersonal trust assessment, as gathered during the conduction of this year’s Latinobarómetro wave, in the aftermath of a period of intense social upheaval.
Taking into consideration the aforementioned elements that generally influence interpersonal trust in a negative way, it seems that it will require a planned and sustained effort to raise the perception of trust among Venezuelans. For this to be possible, two things must happen first: confidence must be restored to the country’s different institutions and, in parallel, a significant reduction in both poverty and crime levels must occur. However, and as evidenced in the various investigations mentioned, Venezuela is not an isolated event, since its low levels of confidence do not show a significant difference compared to the average in Latin America.
As evidenced by the findings shown in the case of both Latin America as a whole, and Venezuela specifically, interpersonal trust not only seems to be directly proportional to institutional trust levels as well as to their perceived quality within each country, but also with some common regional cultural traits, which brings up additional questions to be answered through further Public Opinion surveys.