Americans’ confidence in the news media has been waning for years, but an increasing number have lost trust in the media’s ability to inform viewers with objective reporting and feel the press is now actively driving the country’s current partisan divide, according to a biennial report by the Knight Foundation and opinion poll giant Gallup.
The report, which sought to analyze Americans’ attitudes toward the media and what connections they have with their political views, discovered that while virtually all respondents think it’s “very important”—if not “critical”—for the media to provide accurate and fair reporting (92 percent), a majority also reported seeing increased levels of partisan bias in the news.
About half of those surveyed (49 percent) said they currently see a “great deal” of political bias in news coverage, up from 45 percent reported during the last iteration of the Knight/Gallup study conducted two years ago. Nearly three-quarters of Americans said they now consider media bias to be a “major problem” (73 percent), up from 65 percent in the 2017 study.
More than half of respondents (56 percent) admit they’ve even noticed at least a “fair amount” of bias in the news sources they rely on most. Paradoxically, however, a majority (69 percent) said they’re more concerned about potential bias in news sources consumed by others as opposed to bias in their own preferred media channels (29 percent).
Nearly eight in 10 Americans (79 percent) said they think news organizations exhibit this bias because they’re trying to persuade the public to adopt a certain viewpoint, while three-quarters (75 percent) are worried that media owners are willfully influencing their companies’ coverage. Only 12 percent believe the media are trying to report the news accurately and fairly but are simply unable to do so. In other words, a majority believe the perceived phenomenon of inaccurate news is intentional, either because reporters are misrepresenting the facts (54 percent) or because they’re making them up (28 percent). Eight percent said they believe some media outlets are deliberately trying to ruin the country.
As usual, respondents’ political affiliations were a strong corollary in determining their attitudes toward the press’ performance and what levels of trust they have in the news media.
Overall, nearly three-quarters of respondents identifying as Republican (71 percent) said they have an unfavorable opinion of the news media, compared to only 22 percent of Democrats. Nearly the same number of Democrats (70 percent) said they think the media are unjustifiably under attack. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans, meanwhile (61 percent), believe those attacks are warranted.
It also appears that the more conservative Americans lean, the more palpable their disdain for the media: one in five Americans who identify as “very conservative” believe certain media outlets are deliberately trying to ruin the country, compared to only one in 10 who identify as moderate conservatives.
Overall, nearly half of those polled (48 percent) think the media bears “a great deal” of blame for the country’s polarized political climate, while more than a third (36 percent) believe the media bears “a moderate amount” of blame. That said, respondents said they still value the news media’s role in a free society, as an overwhelming majority (84 percent) said they believe the media is “critical”—or at least “very important”—to a democracy.
The Knight Foundation/Gallup report, “American Views 2020: Trust Media and Democracy,” was based on survey data from more than 20,000 U.S. adults collected between November and February.