Kiwis Count measures trust in public services in two ways: trust of New Zealanders based on personal experience of using public services and trust in the public service brand (perception) – see Figure 1 below. By both measures, trust (the percentage of people who answered four or five on a five-point scale) has increased markedly since 2007, with the strongest increase in trust in the public sector brand.
In 2019, 79% of New Zealanders trust public services based on their personal experience. This is 12 percentage points higher than 2007, and one percentage point down on 2018. This one percentage point decrease is neither statistically significant or considered meaningful with trust based on experience around the high level of 80% for the past few years. Within this number over half of informants have very high trust scoring 5 on a 5-point scale.
Trust in the public sector brand is 49% in 2019, which is five percentage points higher than 2015 though slightly down on last year. This result does not alter the overall upward trend since 2007.
The graph in Figure 1 demonstrates that the trend has been one of improvement in trust by the public through experience of services and in the public sector 'brand'. Improvement in public sector 'brand' has been greater than through service experience and the gap between the two (which is also demonstrated internationally through the ICCS Canada work) has been narrowing in recent years. The graph in Figure 2 also demonstrates that the public's distrust in government through service experience and in the brand has been improving. In contrast to these, the content of Figure 3 demonstrates that public trust in private services (demonstrated in the light blue dotted line) has been slowly declining since 2007.
Figure 1: Trust in public sector services based on personal experience and trust in the public sector brand
Distrust of the public sector (the percentage of people who answered one or two on a five-point scale) has reduced since 2007. In 2019, distrust in the public sector brand, at 11%, was half that in 2007 and reduced from 2018. Distrust based on personal experience, at 9%, is lower than 2007 when it was 12% and at the same level as it was in 2014."
Trust in the public service brand is measured by asking respondents: "Overall, to what extent do you trust the public service?" Trust in public services based on personal experience is measured by asking respondents to think about their most recent public service interaction. One of the subsequent questions is: "Thinking about your most recent service contact, can you trust them [public servants] to do what is right?"
Consistently, New Zealanders' trust in public services by recent experience has measured much higher than trust in brand. The same result is found in Canadian research: "when citizens evaluate services they have used recently, they draw on particular memories of actual experiences. When citizens rate government services in general, they draw on opinions and possibly stereotypes of government, and these tend to be negative."
Figure 2: Distrust in public sector services based on personal experience and distrust in the public sector brand
Trust in the public sector compared to trust in the private sector
Since 2012, Kiwis Count has measured New Zealanders' trust in the private sector ("to what extent do you trust the private sector?") to help benchmark the results for trust in public services. In 2012, New Zealanders' trust in the private sector (40%) was very similar to the result for the trust in the public sector (41%). Figure 3 shows that since 2013, trust in the private sector has not improved (41% in 2019) and is eight percentage points below trust in the public sector brand (49% in 2019). The gap for trust between public and private sectors continues in 2019.
Figure 3: Trust in brand, public sector and private sector services
- There is little clear difference between regions in trust based on personal experience, although the Wellington region has the highest level of trust. New Zealanders living in Wellington have greater trust in the public sector brand than those in other areas.
- In 2019 women reported higher trust in public services based on their personal experience (80% in 2019) than men, who rated their trust lower (77% in 2019).
- For trust in the public sector brand, historically men have consistently scored trust higher than women. This trend continues in 2019.
- In 2019, people of Asian, NZ European and Pasifika ethnicity had similar and high results for trust based on personal experience (79%, 81% and 76% respectively) The Pasifika result is an improvement since 2017 (61%), although this increase should be used with caution as it is based on a small sample count. Results for Māori for this measure are significantly lower (65%).
- However, there are differences in the results for trust in the public sector brand. In 2019 those of Asian ethnicity have the highest trust in the public sector brand (57%), followed by Pasifika (51%) and then NZ Europeans (48%), then with Māori lower at 40%. All apart from NZ European have seen an increase since 2017. However, over time the gap between Māori and non-Māori has decreased and is now 10 percentage points, down from 17 percentage points in 2018.
- Research using Kiwis Count data found that differences between ethnic groups in the types of public services they use is a driver of ethnic trust differences.
Figure 4: Trust in the public sector brand by age group (2019)
- Those aged over 75 years have higher levels of trust in the public sector brand than other age groups. This is illustrated in Figure 4. Figure 5 shows that that those aged 65 years and older have higher levels of trues based on personal experience.
Figure 5: Trust from personal experience by age group (2019)
- In 2019, 71% of respondents with a disability scored four or five for trust based on personal experience compared to 79% of those without disabilities. Respondents with a disability also have lower trust in the public sector brand compared to other respondents (41% vs. 50%). Respondents with a disability also have lower trust in the private sector (39%) compared to those who do not have a disability (41%). This difference is less than the case in 2018.
- Trust from personal experience increases as household income increases in 2019. Trust in both the public and private sector brands is strongest in those earning over $100,000 per year.
- Those with a degree or higher qualification have higher trust in the public sector brand (55%) than with those lower level (43%-48%) or no (42%) qualifications. However, there is little difference when it comes to trust based on personal experience of public services or trust in the private sector brand.
 Papadopoulos T & Vance P (2019). Does ethnicity affect trust in public services? Paper prepared for the 2019 conference of the International Research Society for Public Management. Wellington, New Zealand.