New research from the Poynter Institute finds overall trust and confidence in the media has increased since President Trump took office to the highest levels observed since the 2001 terrorist attacks—though the president’s war of words on the press appear to have exacerbated partisan divisions in attitudes toward the press.
Based on responses from 2,100 survey participants whose news consumption habits were tracked in November, Republicans have vastly more negative views of the press than do Democrats, and are more likely to support restrictions on press freedom. While Democrats with high political knowledge say they have the most faith in the press, Republicans with high political knowledge are the most distrustful of the media—more so than Republicans with low political knowledge.
Fake news perceptions
Republicans and Trump supporters are also far more likely to endorse extreme claims about media fabrication, to describe journalists as an “enemy of the people,” and to support restrictions on press freedom.
Almost half of Americans (44 percent) indicate that they believe the news media fabricates stories about President Trump more than once in a while, and a substantial minority also indicate that they agree with a claim that Trump made that the media are an “enemy of the people” (31 percent) and “keep political leaders from doing their job” (31 percent). One in four Americans surveyed (25 percent) endorses draconian limitations on press freedom (allowing the government to block news stories it sees as biased or inaccurate).
Is news consumption trapped in a filter bubble?
The survey tracked participants’ visits to news sites and revealed that people consume news from a more diverse set of outlets than they report reading regularly, indicating concerns about filter bubbles may be overstated.
“Based on the news sources people visit, there seems to be a lot more overlap in the information they encounter than the echo chambers narrative would suggest,” said Andrew Guess of Princeton University, one of the authors of the study, in a news release. “It’s possible that some of the trust differentials in our results are driven by people who see plenty of news from across the ideological spectrum, but simply don’t believe it.”
A large majority of respondents (69 percent) believe that the media “tend to favor one side,” yet the same percentage believe that news organizations “keep political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done.”
The three authors of the survey—Guess, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College, and Jason Reifler of University of Essex—conclude the challenge for media outlets is to avoid being drawn into alignment with either of the parties. The surge in Democratic support for the press and attacks on the media from the White House are creating an even more politicized media landscape. Under these circumstances, journalists’ role in creating a shared understanding of reality across the political divide is more important than ever, the authors said.
A total of 2,100 respondents from YouGov‘s Pulse panel took part in the Wave 1 survey, which was fielded from November 2–8, 2017, while 1,850 respondents completed the Wave 2 survey from November 8–18, 2017 (88% retention rate). The study was funded by The Poynter Institute and Craig Newmark Philanthropies.