‘Trust vacuum’ may explain Trump win

New research reveals what could be an answer to Donald Trump's presidential win. This extends to businesses and brands. Here's why.

Consumer trust in business organisations and institutions including the media and politicians has gone into freefall in recent years, and according to recent research, older people are now among the most disaffected.

According to Omnibus polling for the Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC ), 57 per cent of people over the age of 55 say they have lost trust in corporations, businesses and other institutions in recent years, with virtually no one saying their levels of trust have improved. Conversely, people under 25 appear to be less cynical, with over a third saying they have more trust in these institutions than they had previously.

The AoEC launched an initiative today for building a new generation of trusted leaders. But what makes a trusted leader, especially in an age where the terms sounds like an oxymoron?John Blakey, author of ‘The Trusted Executive’, who is leading the AoEC initiative, has identified three fundamental qualities that are necessary for people to trust a leader: ability (able to deliver results), integrity (reliable in behaviours and maintains a consistent set of values) and benevolence (doesn’t act purely in own interest).

Based on a comprehensive analysis of the core characteristics of what makes this near-mythical figure, the AoEC’s work identified ‘trust vacuums’ across an array of institutions and sectors. The US presidential race, by common consent, is an example of this phenomenon.

Blakey believes this current crisis in trust could explain many of the phenomena we have seen politically in recent times, with the US election being a particularly striking example. “Trump has never held high office, and yet this has not barred him from getting close to the White House as his reputation as a businessman has convinced people of his ability to deliver,” he says.

The AoEC study revealed that distrust of politicians was particularly high among older people in the UK, with less than 7 per cent of over 55s saying that they trusted MPs. This compares to nearly a quarter of 18 to 24 year olds who trust politicians. This cynicism towards politicians, particularly among older people, could explain the post-truth anti-establishment phenomenon of Donald Trump, who is seen by some as an alternative to politics-as-usual.

“People have tired of the mainstream political system which they see as geared towards establishment interests and are seeking an alternative to the status quo. The very fact that he is not a politician is what appeals to his supporters as he can speak with integrity outside of the political system. His promise to ‘make America great again’ suggests to his supporters that he is looking after their interests,” Blakey explains.

Trump has shown that creating a compelling narrative to support your argument can be hugely effective in building a following, but it can only take you so far, Blakey adds. Despite his presidential win, Trump’s recent comments have proved to be too much for many senior Republicans, which can potentially damage his standing.  Ironically, according to Blakey, Trump has succeeded in occupying the trust vacuum at the heart of politics by demonstrating a certain flexibility with the truth. “This is a perfect example of how maverick leaders can exploit the current trust crisis in all walks of life if mainstream leaders do not seize the opportunity to build trust by focussing upon their ability, integrity and benevolence.”

“I believe that trustworthiness is a product of multiplying these three qualities together. The crucial element is that this formula is based on multiplication rather than addition, meaning that if a leader scores zero for any one of these three attributes, then their trust rating is wiped out completely. By repeatedly referring to Clinton as ‘Crooked Hillary’, Trump appears to be trying to wipe out her integrity and consequently her overall trustworthiness.”

Going back to the UK study, when asked to think about which attributes they looked for in a potential leader, honesty, fairness and the ability to deliver results were viewed as the most important across all age groups. However, communication skills and creative thinking were valued more highly by young people than older generations.

“Without question our polling indicates that we are seeing a crisis in trust across many sections of society. Many of our institutions have been rocked by scandals in recent years and we have seen many familiar names disappear from our high streets. It is crucial for business leaders and politicians to address this problem and rebuild trust,” says Gina Lodge, AoEC chief executive.

According to Lodge, the decline in trust creates a difficult context for business leaders and politicians, but it should also be seen as a potential opportunity. “Organisations that can demonstrate their trustworthiness will be richly rewarded and develop a loyal following that is becoming all too rare nowadays.”

The report also found significant distrust of the media, with people generally more likely to believe what they read online compared to what they read in a newspaper. Broadcast media was the most trusted source of information across all age groups apart from those under 25, who viewed online and broadcast media as equally reliable.

The league table of organisations below reveals public opinion in the UK.



Trust rating

(out of 10)


High Street retailers



Online retailers



Broadcast media



Local council






Online media



Utilities companies



Credit card companies



Print media



Insurance companies



Sporting organisations





Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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