The historic events of 2020—kicked off by the COVID-19 pandemic, and furthered by the nationwide protests in response to the killing of George Floyd and finally, the November Presidential election—triggered an unprecedented domino effect of disruption in the United States, one that arrived on top of the fake news phenomenon and an ongoing climate of political polarization.
So, now that President Trump has left office, can we expect this era of political divisiveness to end? Not so fast, according to the latest annual Global Communications Report conducted by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations.
The report, which analyzed emerging trends in the global communications world by surveying PR professionals, members of the press and the general public, discovered that Americans don’t exactly have a rosy outlook for the U.S. political landscape in a post-Trump world.
More than half of U.S. voters (53 percent) said they expect polarization of opinion on social issues to stay the same despite President Biden’s promise to bring people together. Fewer than half (48 percent) believe Biden’s election will have the effect of bringing about national unity and nearly a third (31 percent) predict that polarization will increase. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) believe the Biden era will actually result in civil unrest.
Additionally, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Americans think racism in the U.S. will remain the same or even increase under Biden, and only 18 percent expect their empathy towards people who disagree with them will grow.
That said, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all Americans surveyed admitted they have a positive outlook and remain hopeful for the next four years, although sentiment was starkly divided when respondents were broken out by political ideology, with those on the political left expressing markedly more optimism than those on the right (78 percent versus 41 percent, respectively).
|Despite expressing overall pessimism regarding the state of political divisiveness in the country, PR professionals said they think the Biden Admin. would have some positive impacts on the communications industry.|
These attitudes in the communications and press world were only slightly more positive than those of the average U.S. citizen.
More than three-quarters (77 percent) of journalists surveyed predicted the spread of fake news and the proliferation of conspiracy theories would stay the same or increase during the Biden administration, and 43 percent additionally expect to see growth in the use of social media for political purposes, which they believe will result in more government regulation of social media platforms.
Nearly half (45 percent) of PR pros predict increased polarization in the U.S., and 72 percent expect activist demands placed on businesses to increase. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) said they think consumer expectations of businesses’ role in society would also increase.
Despite all this, it’s clear that PR pros and journalists foresee promising developments in a post-Trump world. More than a third (39 percent) of PR professionals and 37 percent of journalists said they think the Biden era will usher in a greater respect for their profession, and 78 percent of reporters believe the credibility of the White House Press Corps will improve. 85 percent of PR pros think the new administration will boost the United States’ global reputation.
USC Annenberg’s 2021 Global Communication Report, “Politics, Polarization and Purpose,” was compiled with data from two online surveys. One surveyed 833 U.S. residents on a wide range of social topics in late December 2020. The second surveyed 1,450 PR professionals and journalists regarding business and communications issues between November 2020 and January 2021.