GLOBAL: Around the world there is a major "trust gap" between the informed and general public, according to a new survey which highlights the role business has to play in closing this divide.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, based on a survey of more than 33,000 respondents in 28 countries, reported the largest ever trust gap – of 12 points – between the informed public and mass population during the 16 years it has been conducting this research.

At 20 points, the gap was highest in the US, followed by the UK (17 points), France and India (both 16 points).

While trust among informed publics was at the highest ever levels, it was below 50% for the mass population in over 60% of the countries surveyed, "having barely moved since the Great Recession", Edelman noted.

Income inequality and divergent expectations of the future were at the root of this widening gap, the consequences of which could include, according to Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, "the rise of populist politicians, the blocking of innovation and the onset of protectionism and nativism".

The study further revealed that respondents are increasingly reliant on a "person like yourself": on social networking and content-sharing sites, for example, respondents were far more trusting of family and friends (78%) than a CEO (49%).

Despite the general population's skepticism of business, however, it has the best opportunity to bridge the trust chasm.

Overall, respondents viewed business (61%) as the institution most trusted to keep pace with rapid change, far more than they did government (41%) or NGOs (55%).

Business was also significantly more trusted than government in 21 of 28 countries – with large gaps in countries such as South Africa (44 points) and Mexico (44 points) – and had seen the greatest improvement since the last survey, up five points to 53% and just behind the most trusted institution of NGOs on 55%.

"Business can be a big part of the solution because it is apolitical, fast, and tracks its progress," said Kathryn Beiser, global practice chair of Edelman's Corporate practice.

"The new model CEOs are taking action by addressing the issues of our time, and taking a personal interest in the success of society," she added.

"Stakeholders expect business to have a solid and steady focus on financial returns, but also on actions around key issues such as education, healthcare and the environment."

Data sourced from Edelman; additional content by Warc staff