Many Americans Remain Distrusting of News Media

by Lymari Morales

Less than half (45%) have great deal/fair amount of confidence; majority perceive bias

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Less than half of Americans (45%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly -- on par with last year's record-low 43%. About 2 in 10 Americans (18%) have no confidence in the media at all -- which is also among the worst grades Gallup has recorded.

How Much Trust and Confidence Do You Have in the Mass Media?

The findings are from the same Gallup survey, conducted Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2009, that found more Americans following political news very closely than in any other recent year without a presidential election. Despite the relatively high level of interest in political news in particular, many Americans appear to be consuming their news skeptically. Ten percent say they have a great deal of confidence in the media's reporting and 35% have a fair amount, but 37% do not have very much confidence and 18% have none at all.

Americans' views about bias in the news are also fairly steady over the past few years. Currently, 45% say the media are too liberal, while 15% say too conservative and 35% say they are just about right. None of these percentages have budged more than three or four points since 2005.

Are the News Media Too Liberal, Just About Right, or Too Conservative?

Taken together, the steady nature of Americans' views about media accuracy in general and bias in the news suggest fairly entrenched views about the news media, even amid turbulent changes in the industry. These include the economic challenges facing traditional news sources and the rise of less traditional sources, including blogs, citizen journalism, and open-to-anyone dissemination platforms such as Twitter. Gallup's question mentions newspapers, television, and radio, and thus, any impact of the new media on these numbers, positive or negative, would be indirect.

"In addition to Democrats, nonwhites and those with a high school education or less place the most trust in the media, followed by liberals, women, and Americans 18 to 29."

Similarly well-established are the partisan nature of these views. Currently, 58% of Democrats say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in media reporting and accuracy, compared to 39% of independents and 36% of Republicans. Republicans are slightly more likely than they were last year to say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust, though 27% say they have no trust at all, compared with 21% of independents and 6% of Democrats.

Trust in Media, by Party ID, 2008 vs. 2009

A full three-fourths of Republicans (74%) say the news media are too liberal, compared to 45% of independents and 21% of Democrats. In contrast, 2 in 10 Democrats (20%) and independents (19%), along with 4% of Republicans, say the news media are too conservative. Compared to 2008, Republicans are slightly less likely, and independents slightly more likely, to say the media are too liberal, while Democrats' views are essentially unchanged.

Views of Media Bias, by Party, 2008 vs. 2009

Who Does Trust the Media?

In addition to Democrats, nonwhites and those with a high school education or less place the most trust in the media, followed by liberals, women, and Americans 18 to 29. In all other demographic groups, less than a majority say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.

Trust in the Mass Media, by Demographic Group

Bottom Line

Many Americans continue to distrust the news media, with less than half (45%) saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly -- a number in the range of what Gallup has found over the past three years. A majority perceive bias, though many more say the media are too liberal than say they are too conservative. Since 2008, Republicans have shown some positive movement, albeit slight, on both of these measures, suggesting they may be finding more media outlets with which they do not have a complaint. Still, of all demographic groups, Republicans and conservatives remain the least trusting of the media, with independents showing only marginally more faith in the media's reporting. Taken together, the findings underscore the challenge facing the media as they struggle with economic difficulties and increasing competition from emerging platforms.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,026 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 31- Sept. 1, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/123365/Americans-Remain-Distrusting-News-Media.aspx
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