Governments have been blamed for the financial and political chaos of 2011.
In 17 of 25 countries surveyed governments are now trusted to do what is right by less than half those questioned.
Overall trust in government fell by nine percentage points to 43%.
Trust in business also fell, from 56% to 53%.
Although businesses saw less severe declines in trust, countries at the heart of the eurozone saw sharper decreases.
Businesses in Spain, France and Germany saw trust decline by 21, 20 and 18 percentage points respectively.
China was the only country to see a significant rise in trust in businesses, up from 61% to 71%.
Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, said: "Business is now better placed than governments to lead the way out of the trust crisis".
"But the balance must change so that business is seen both as a force for good and an engine for profit."
Alongside these steep declines in trust in institutions such as governments or businesses, the survey highlights a dramatic switch in those whom people say they now trust.
A "person like me" is now one of the top three credible sources, said those surveyed, only trailing academics and technical experts.
Social networking, microblogging and content-sharing sites saw the most dramatic percentage rises as trusted sources of information, jumping by 88%, 86% and 75%.
Despite these gains, traditional media and online search engines are still the most trusted sources of information for general news and information, says the survey.
Edelman's 2012 trust Barometer was released in the run-up to this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, where it will be presented in more detail.
Edelman's online survey sampled 25,000 respondents among the general population, with an over-sample of 5,600 "informed" people from the upper end of society - college-educated, with household income in the top quarter - across 25 countries.