Republicans Cry Foul Over Media Coverage of Palin

by Lydia Saad

Majority say coverage of Palin, and of McCain, has been unfairly negative

PRINCETON, NJ -- The pundit-fueled firestorm around media coverage of John McCain's running mate Sarah Palin is evident in Americans' highly mixed views on the subject. About the same proportion of Americans say media coverage of Palin has been unfairly negative (33%) as say it has been about right (36%). An additional 21% say coverage of her has been unfairly positive.


These views -- taken from a Sept. 8-11 Gallup Poll conducted mostly before the airing of Palin's interview with ABC News' Charlie Gibson -- are sharply partisan. A majority of Republicans (54%), compared with only 29% of independents and 18% of Democrats, think Palin is getting a raw deal from the press. Three times as many Democrats as Republicans (34% vs. 11%) think coverage of her has been too positive.


By contrast, a majority of Americans say media treatment of McCain has been about right (53%). However, among the remainder, the balance tilts more than 2-to-1 toward saying coverage of him has been unfairly negative: 30% vs. 13%. Republicans are closely divided on this, with the slight majority (51%) saying coverage of McCain has been too negative and close to half (43%) saying it has been about right.

These perceptions haven't changed much since they were previously measured, in late July. The view that coverage of McCain is about right has increased slightly (from 46% to 53%), as the percentage with no opinion on the issue has declined. But there has been no meaningful change in perceptions that he is getting either unfair positive treatment or unfair negative treatment.


Close to half of Americans -- including most Democrats -- believe media treatment of Obama is about right. This is a slight increase from late July, when only 39% took this view. At the same time, the perception that media treatment of Obama is unfairly positive has fallen from 39% to 32%. However, twice as many Americans still hold this view as say coverage of him is unfairly negative. Six in 10 Republicans think Obama has received overly favorable press coverage.


Americans broadly view the media's treatment thus far of Joe Biden as fair. Nearly 6 in 10 (59%) say coverage of Obama's running mate has been about right, while much smaller proportions believe it has been either unfairly positive (15%) or unfairly negative (11%).


Men and women have nearly identical views of how Palin, Biden, and McCain are being treated in the media. However, men are slightly more likely than women (36% vs. 29%) to say the media's coverage of Obama has been unfairly positive.

Media Ratings Turn More Negative

Republicans' criticism of how the media is treating their party's presidential and vice-presidential candidates may be taking a toll on broader public confidence in the mass media.

The percentage of Americans saying they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the media when it comes to fairness and accuracy is now just 43%, the lowest level seen over the past decade (in 2004, it was a similar 44%). At 21%, the percentage of Americans saying they have no confidence at all in the media is a record high.


The increase since 2007, from 17% to 21%, in those saying they have no confidence in the media is mostly because of worsening attitudes among Republicans.


Bottom Line

During the Democratic primary season, Hillary Clinton's campaign representatives issued steady complaints that their candidate wasn't getting the same favorable treatment that Obama was receiving from the media. That charge seemed to filter into public opinion in July, when Gallup found as many Americans saying media coverage of Obama was too positive as said it was about right. This included 60% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats.

That sentiment has simmered down somewhat, although there is a persistent tilt toward believing Obama is getting a break from the media.

Today, there is much more controversy among Americans about the media's coverage of Palin. More than half are dissatisfied with the nature of coverage of her, saying it is either too positive or too negative. This seems to reflect the raging political pundit debate over whether the media's commentary on Palin's governmental qualifications and personal life has gone too far.

Whether valid, or merely a political tactic, the election-year shots at the media for biased coverage seem to be eroding public confidence in the entire news media as a reputable institution.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 8-11, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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