How can we objectively measure the perception of truthfulness of different governments?



Is there a way to objectively measure or compare how much people believe different governments?

For example, people have accused China of a propaganda campaign to cover up the origins of COVID-19. Another dictatorial regime, Iran, seems to be among the countries hit hardest by the outbreak. On the other hand, North Korea, reports zero known cases of infection.

If one were to ask about non-governmental sources of information, we can point to something like mediabiasfactcheck and other fact-checkers. But those don't exist for governments.

Is there a way to measure and objectively compare how much "the rest of the world" believes the information coming out of the government of any given country?

Rain Willow

Posted 2020-03-19T09:12:48.880

Reputation: 3 860


With difficulty judging by the questions we've been getting on Skeptics and even here, lately.

– Fizz – 2020-03-19T09:18:09.353



This has been explored by Berens et al. [1], from the Reputation Institute, the publishers of the annual RepTrak country reputation rankings. In their chapter in the International Place Branding Yearbook 2011, they provide an overview of their methodology, which seeks to measure a country's reputation in much the same way that one might measure the reputation of an individual or a company.

They argue that this reputation is linked intrinsically to the overall international trust of a country, something which is backed up by Klewes & Wreschniok [2], which states that the link between reputation and trust is "fundamental and indispensable", arguing that " trust is based on the experience that an agent has fulfilled our expectations in the past."

They list 11 different attributes, which fit into three different dimensions. These are:

  1. Advanced Economy
    • An important contributor to global culture
    • Is technologically advanced
    • Is inventive
    • Produces high-quality products and services
  2. Appealing Environment
    • Offers appealing lifestyle
    • An enjoyable country
    • A beautiful country
  3. Effective Government
    • Offers a favorable environment for doing business
    • Has adopted progressive social and economic policies
    • Is a responsible participant in the global community
    • Is run by an effective government

The testing methodology consisted of a large random sample (n=26,000) of consumers in the G8 countries, combined with an additional sample (n=19,000) from the country in question drawn from its own citizens. Responses were adjusted to take into account general per-country bias - for example, respondents from Greece generally will have a good opinion of Cyprus.

A further dimension which was measured was "Supportive Behaviors". This measured the willingness of consumers to visit, live in, invest in, work in, and buy products from the country.

In conclusion then, while the study in question is conducted by surveying populations, it seems possible that a similar study could be conducted which measures at least some of these criteria objectively. Certainly, factors such as "willingness to invest" and "technological advancement" could be measured using economic data. However, it would seem that the best way to measure the reputation of a country will probably be to survey the opinions of global respondents through large-scale polling, as the factors that the study found had the most effect on a country's reputation were attributes such as "Offers an appealing lifestyle", "Is a responsible participant in the global community", and "Is a beautiful country", which would seem to be more abstract factors.


[1]: Berens G., Fombrun C.J., Ponzi L.J., Trad N.G., Nielsen K. (2011) Country RepTrak™: A Standardized Measure of Country Reputation. In: Go F.M., Govers R. (eds) International Place Branding Yearbook 2011. Palgrave Macmillan, London

[2]: Klewes J., Wreschniok R. (2009) Reputation capital Building and maintaining trust in the 21st century. In: Klewes J., Wreschniok R. (eds) Reputation Capital. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg


Posted 2020-03-19T09:12:48.880

Reputation: 47 740

3I'm sorry, but with your method one can easily conclude that Trump's government almost never lies about anything, including climate change etc. (If I'm allowed some parody: "We live in such a beautiful country, [therefore our gov't is extremely trustworthy on everything, and it says] how can there be any climate change??") – Fizz – 2020-03-19T10:23:11.407

3@Fizz firstly it's not my method, it's an academic paper. I try not to base my responses on personal opinion as much as possible. Secondly, that is absolutely not the conclusion the paper draws - its methodology rated the USA around the same level as Brazil and India; and that was in 2011, way before Trump's influence on the reputation of the USA. It is important to take the study as a whole, not focus on one attribute that is a factor in the multi-faceted methodology. – CDJB – 2020-03-19T10:29:40.940

1I'm sorry, but an academic paper in the "International Place Branding Yearbook" doesn't strike me as a high-rep source, in the academic land... The paper seems to have exactly 10 citations in Google Scholar. (And I bet they also come from other "branding" papers.) – Fizz – 2020-03-19T10:39:08.417


@Fizz I'm not sure why... its publisher is Palgrave Macmillan, which is an eminently reputable academic publisher with a focus on social sciences and politics, and the book itself has been widely cited in other academic studies. Bear in mind that that is also only for the 2011 edition.

– CDJB – 2020-03-19T10:44:07.043

You are commiting a form of ecological fallacy here by equating country reputation with the trustworthiness one can attach to particular pieces of information coming out of a government. Country rep is a good proxy in general perhaps, but oh boy can you get it wrong if just rely on that sole country rep indicator. And yes, it is your method, I don't quite see where Berens says their rep index is good proxy for what you are proposing to use it for.

– Fizz – 2020-03-19T10:48:40.537

@Fizz please see the cited paper which discusses the validity of this link. I'm struggling to understand why you have a problem with academic sources - it would seem to me that these are more valid than your personal heuristics...

– CDJB – 2020-03-19T10:50:39.250

You'd have to indulge me and include a quote in your answer, because I don't see where they say that. – Fizz – 2020-03-19T10:52:29.810

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– CDJB – 2020-03-19T10:53:24.573


The OP has substantially changed their question in the meantime, making your answer on topic, and mine not. That's the reason I've deleted mine now... The old question asked how truthfulness rather than perception thereof can be estimated. I totally agree that (country) rep/"brading" surveys is a good method for estimating the perception of (gov't) truthfulness among some population of interest.

– Fizz – 2020-03-19T11:16:41.980

@Fizz I see - I think that's why we were getting our wires crossed! I was going off the sentiment expressed in the question body. Re-reading your answer I see that that's what you were going for. Apologies for the misunderstanding. – CDJB – 2020-03-19T11:18:20.823


With the regard to the updated question, which is now squarely about perceptions-only, I also have to say that while using country "rep" as a proxy (as suggested in CDJB's answer), there are sometimes caveats.

Consider for example how the US is perceived/rated as a country in the world vs how Trump's governments/administration is perceived:

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This question was technically about trust in what they'd do rather than "what they say", but I bet that Trump isn't perceived as very truthful in Europe either...

Most Europeans and Latin Americans have little confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs. This includes only 13% of adults in Germany and 8% in Mexico. However, Filipinos and Israelis are especially keen on the U.S. president, with 77% and 71% of adults, respectively, expressing confidence in Trump.

... especially in Germany since e.g. Germans strongly disapprove of Trump's position on climate change, etc.

On top of that, there are 2nd order effects to worry about, in which beliefs about others' actual beliefs or statements come into play, e.g. Germans rate the climate-change awareness of Americans and Chinese lower than it actually is.

74% of German respondents on the Special Eurobarometer 459 (2017) see climate change as a “very serious problem” and further 16%as “fairly serious.” Besides the EU, the US and China are said to be key player in international climate politics,while all three are one of the world-largest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2). China is moreover the largest developing country, and also one of the greatest emerging economies (Schreurs, 2008). According to surveys on climate change awareness in the US and China, 16% of both nations reply to be “very worried” about climate change, 39% of the Americans and 64% of the Chinese are “somewhat” worried (Leiserowith, Smith, &Marlon, 2010; Wang, 2017). In sum, the public climate change awareness in China and Germany is on a high level, while US Americans are much less concerned on average.


German respondents believe that almost 30% of Germans are “concerned” or “very concerned” about climate change. Compared thereto, German respondents assessed only about 6% of people in the US and even less than 5% of Chinese citizens as being concerned. Differences are statistically significant. Similar are the findings for assessed knowledge related to climate change: At minimum, around 11% of people in Germany are assessed as having “knowledge” or “a lot knowledge,” but less than 5% of people in the US and China are indicated as having climate change related knowledge (differences statistically significant). Even greater are the perceived differences for climate-friendly behavior: while Germans assess 15% of Germans as behaving “climate friendly” or “very climate-friendly,” they only assess about 2% of the American and Chinese people to do so (differences statistically significant).

So yeah, using the perception of others has some obvious limitations if one's ultimate goal is to assess the actual truthfulness (or beliefs) of the original source.


Posted 2020-03-19T09:12:48.880

Reputation: 76 605