2022 Trusted Messengers Study

When concerns around misinformation and fake news are at an all-time high, who do Americans turn to as messengers of real, unbiased, trustworthy information? How do those messengers change as individuals move through a journey of awareness to information gathering to remaining informed or taking action?

Intro text

The Trusted Messenger Study was designed to identify the messengers Americans trust to become aware of, informed about and incite personal action on key social issues. This study aims to better inform brands, causes and civic groups working to educate and inspire the American public at all levels on these topics.

This study is an ongoing, annual exploration, which began in 2021 (see the full report here). Now in its second year, the 2022 study sought to update this information amid the current climate as well as dig deeper into the trusted messengers beyond one’s inner circle (friends and family).

In 2022, ACRI conducted a mixed-methods research study to:
  • Identify the trusted messengers at each level of the Trusted Messenger Ecosystem (generate awareness, provide information/further inform and make decisions) for advice & opinions on social issues, in general and for six specific current topics/issues.
    • 2022 topics included: voting & democracy, health & wellness, mental health, racial equity & justice, climate change and addiction.
  • Understand what makes these messengers trusted for their advice or opinions.
  • Pinpoint the specific trusted messengers that spark action for a particular issue.

As noted previously, this study differs from others in that it does not seek to survey the public on trusted news sources, or on the validity of the information being shared. This study specifically looks at the messenger of such information, and if/why that person is believed to be trustworthy.

So when it comes to understanding and taking action for key social issues, who do Americans deem trustworthy—particularly beyond their inner circle—and why? Who should brands and causes leverage to reach, inform and inspire Americans to take action? How do trusted messengers vary by social issue or by demographic categories (such as generation and political affiliation)?

Key Data Points
The closer a messenger is to a person, the more they trust them in later stages of the knowledge journey.
As a person moves through the knowledge journey from awareness to understanding to remaining informed/taking action, they continually turn to (and trust) those closest to them—as well as experts like doctors/medical professionals and scientists. An exception here is news messengers (local and national), whom Americans turn to both in the initial awareness stage and later, for remaining informed.
Younger Americans—especially Gen Z—are more likely to trust social media influencers and celebrities across all stages of the knowledge journey.
Younger Americans, particularly Gen Z, are much more likely than older generations to trust broader influencers (social media influencers, celebrities, podcast hosts, athletes, etc.) when becoming aware of an issue, gathering more information and remaining informed/taking action.
Trust in scientists, professionals and academics remains very low among Republicans.
Like in 2021, the 2022 study saw significant differences by political affiliation in the trusted messengers Americans turn to for more information by political affiliation. Democrats regularly turn to experts and professionals for information (doctors, scientists, academic experts, teachers)—as well as nonprofit organizations. Republicans are much less likely to trust these individuals for information, and instead are more likely to trust pastors/religious leaders.
Americans in urban areas are much more trusting overall than those in other areas.
Individuals living in urban areas have much more trust in all messengers than those in rural or suburban areas, especially with doctors/medical professionals, scientists, professors/academic experts and teachers/school leaders. The only messenger with similar levels of trust between urban and rural Americans is pastors/religious leaders.

Who Do Americans Trust For Information?

2022 Trusted Messengers Study is now available.

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2021 Trusted Messengers Study

This inaugural study explores who Americans trust across six issues including COVID-19, mental health, voting/civic engagement, racial equity & justice, climate change, and addiction.