By Noah Barkin
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Trust in U.S. institutions, particularly the government, has plunged in President Donald Trump's first year in office, according to a leading survey released on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The annual Edelman Trust Barometer showed overall trust in the four institutions it measures - the government, media, business and non-governmental organizations - falling more steeply in the United States than in any of the 28 countries surveyed.
Trump has broken with presidential tradition and repeatedly denounced the media and judiciary - attacks his critics say risk undermining public confidence in those institutions.
By contrast, the country that saw the biggest trust gains among its own citizens was China, after a year in which President Xi Jinping cemented his hold on power at a triumphal party congress.
Faith in the Chinese government jumped 8 points to 84 percent. In the United States it fell 14 points to 33 percent.
"The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust," said Richard Edelman, head of the communications marketing firm that commissioned the research.
Xi was the headliner in Davos last year, days before Trump was inaugurated. This year, Trump is the main attraction. He is expected to defend his "America First" policies in a speech on the final day of the conference of policymakers, CEOs, bankers and celebrities in the Swiss Alps, which runs from Jan. 23-26.
Pointing to the steep erosion in trust in the United States, Edelman said it was the first time since the survey began 18 years ago that such a precipitous drop was not linked to a specific event, such as an economic crisis or catastrophe, like the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Instead it comes at a time when the U.S. economy is showing robust growth and stock markets are at record highs.
"Normally when things are going well, trust is pretty good," Edelman said. "Increasingly there is a disconnect between trust and economic outcomes."
He attributed this to a politicisation of the public discourse in the United States and elsewhere that has left many people confused about what is fact and what is fiction.
The survey showed nearly 2 in 3 people are unable to distinguish reliable news from rumors and falsehoods. While trust in journalism rose to its highest level in years, faith in search engines and social media platforms like Google, Twitter and Facebook fell in 21 of the 28 countries, making media the least trusted of the four institutions globally.
The Edelman survey, based on the opinions of over 33,000 people and conducted between Oct. 28 and Nov. 20 of last year, showed an even deeper lack of trust in U.S. institutions among the "informed public" - people who are college educated, earn above-average incomes and consume news regularly.
Among this group, trust declined a whopping 23 points, putting the United States in last place among the 28 countries surveyed, below Russia and South Africa. In 2017 it ranked sixth.
In the broader U.S. population, faith in the government was equally low among respondents who said they voted for Trump and those who supported his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. But trust in the media was significantly higher among Clinton backers.
The survey also showed that Americans' trust in their own companies fell more steeply than in any other country, with Switzerland and Canada registering the highest levels of trust in their homegrown brands. It showed a revival of faith in "experts", including academics and businessmen.
(Graphic on key players at Davos - http://tmsnrt.rs/2DkHcEa)
(Reporting by Noah Barkin; editing by Mark Heinrich)