Latest trust survey explores link to political leanings

New Zealanders on the centre-left of the political spectrum are generally the most trusting of five political groupings, according to the latest trust survey from Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies.

The results (PPTX, 4MB) show the centre-left have the highest trust of any political grouping in 13 of the 23 institutions or groups they were asked about. The least trusting group is those immediately to the left of the centre-left, the left, who have the lowest trust of any political grouping in 17 of 23 institutions they were asked about, including big and small businesses, the church and the police. The left also have the lowest level of inter-personal trust.

The third Institute for Governance and Policy Studies “Who do we trust?” survey, taken in March 2019 in association with Colmar Brunton, surveyed 1000 New Zealanders on various dimensions of trust.

Institute director Simon Chapple says the results show over half of all New Zealanders now feel they have a relatively high level of trust in most people. Levels of inter-personal trust have increased moderately from 2018.

Trust in traditionally high-trust institutions like medical practitioners, police, judges, courts, and schools, has been steadily rising from 2016 to 2018 and now 2019, he says.

On the other hand, patterns of change are more mixed for low-trust institutions. Having bounced up between 2016 and 2018, trust in Government Ministers and MPs has fallen in 2019, though not back to 2016 levels. Trust in other groups like bloggers, big business and the media has been stable at low levels.

Dr Chapple says nearly two thirds of New Zealanders (63%) trust the government to do what is right for New Zealand, similar to 2018 (65%) and up from 48% in 2016. However, 34% of New Zealanders think corruption is widespread throughout government.

“A similar question (in a Gallup survey) in 2013 gave a figure of 24%, suggesting a worrying rise in corruption perceptions,” he says.

Dr Chapple says interesting and contrasting trust patterns emerge when people’s position on a five-part political spectrum (left, centre-left, centre, centre-right, and right) is considered in relation to specific trust measures. In some cases, there is a gradient. For example, trust in big business rises as people move from the left to right in their political leanings. Trust in the media, bloggers and churches has a similar but less pronounced left-right pattern of rising trust levels.

On other issues, a horseshow pattern emerges, where the left and the right are most similar. For example, trust in fellow New Zealanders to make informed choices about the future of the country is lowest on both the left and the right. It peaks, in this case, in the political centre. Dr Chapple says, as already noted, peak trust is more typically on the centre-left, not in the centre.

Following the Christchurch massacre, the Institute made the decision to run a second survey to see if any significant trust changes have occurred, and to consider levels of inter-ethnic and religious trust and issues of gun ownership. This second survey will be released next month.