New Zealanders’ distrust in government growing

A new study commissioned by Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS) has found that New Zealanders have little trust in government, and that trust has decreased over the last three years.

The study, instigated by IGPS director Associate Professor Michael Macaulay and conducted by Colmar Brunton, surveyed 1,000 people across the country on how much they trust key civic groups such as government ministers, police, medical practitioners, churches, charities, small businesses, the media and bloggers.

Only 8% of respondents reported having “complete or lots of trust” in Members of Parliament and the media. Other government groups also rated poorly, with government ministers trusted by 10% of participants, and local government trusted by 12%.

At the other end of the scale, medical practitioners and police rated as the most trusted groups with 56% and 53% of New Zealanders respectively trusting them “lots” or “completely”.

Macaulay says that the research findings are significantly different to previous studies, such as the OECD’s 2013 study, that find New Zealanders typically have a high-level of trust in their government.

“Our report suggests that there may be a crisis of distrust in the country. Not only is trust in our government, politicians and media low, but it has declined over three years,” the Associate Professor says.

Survey participants were also asked to what extent their levels of trust had changed over the past three years. Government ministers and MPs had the largest declines, with about 50% of participants reporting decreased levels of trust for both groups.

Associate Professor Macaulay says the rankings offer a snapshot of the current political climate, which is typified by low voter turn out and a public largely disengaged with politics.

“Respondents indicate that the general levels of trust in our friends and neighbours remains high. But our trust in politicians, particularly around party funding, are viewed with great scepticism.

“More worryingly, our report indicates there is a trust division between different New Zealanders. Māori, Pasifika, women and those from lower income households tend to have less trust in their elected officials,” he says.

The Associate Professor hopes the report will kick-start a national conversation.

“This survey identifies some important issues, and now we need to ask why people feel the way they do, and what can be done to improve the situation. New Zealand needs to talk about trust,” he says.

Using this report as a platform, IGPS is now looking to undertake a deeper programme of research of public trust over the next two years.

The executive summary and overview of results are available online.