Gallup-Knight Foundation report: Americans see media as key to democracy but increasingly don’t trust it

Press Release

January 16, 2018

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Major study on Americans’ attitudes toward media finds deep partisan divides, but majority see “fake news” as a threat

MIAMI – Jan. 16, 2017 – As debates rage over trust in news, the power of misinformation, and the impact of social media, a new Gallup-Knight Foundation report shows that Americans believe the news media have an important role to play in our democracy – yet they don’t see that role being fulfilled.

More than eight in 10 U.S. adults believe the news media are “critical” or “very important” to our democracy. However, less than half (44 percent) say they can identify a news source that they believe reports the news objectively. And 43 percent say they have a very or somewhat unfavorable opinion of the news media, while 23 percent are neutral.

The report, “American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy” surveyed 19,196 Americans aged 18 and older, revealing that most Americans believe it is now harder to be well-informed and to determine which news is accurate. They increasingly see the media as biased and struggle to identify objective news sources. A large majority of respondents, 73 percent, also saw misinformation on the internet as a major problem with news coverage today, more than any other potential type of news bias.

Party is a significant predictor of nearly every dimension in trust in news and its role in democracy. Democrats largely trust the media and Republicans largely distrust it. Fifty-four percent of Democrats say they have a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the media, and 68 percent of Republicans view the news media in an unfavorable light. Similarly, while 45 percent of Americans say there is “a great deal” of political bias in news coverage (up from 25 percent in 1989), this number is 67 percent among Republicans, versus only 26 percent of Democrats.

“While the media’s role in our democracy is more important than ever, Americans’ views on the media are increasingly conflicted and polarized in an era of information explosion, changing news habits, and new forms of technology-mediated conversation,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “Understanding these issues is essential to ensuring a strong democracy.”

Part of Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, the report holds important implications for the future of journalism. Other key findings include: 

  • More information doesn’t mean being better informed: Fifty-eight percent of Americans say the increased number of news sources makes it harder to be informed. Thirty-eight percent say it’s easier. Half of adults (50 percent) say there are enough sources to sort out facts, down from 66 percent in 1985.
  • Public divided on who is responsible: When asked who is mainly responsible for making sure Americans receive an accurate and politically balanced picture of the news, 48 percent of Americans said individuals, and the same percentage said the news media. Republicans tilt toward placing the main responsibility on the individual (53 percent), while Democrats tilt toward placing responsibility on the media (53 percent).
  • Ambivalence extends to whether technology companies should be regulated: The majority (57 percent) consider internet platforms’ methods to select news stories for them as “a major problem” for democracy, however Americans are divided on whether regulation of these platforms, including Google and Facebook, is warranted. Forty-nine percent say there should be rules or regulations on the methods on these major technology platforms, and 47 percent say that they should be free to provide users with news content using whatever methods they choose.
  • Modern news sources are seen positively, except for social media: Americans believe the internet, news aggregators, citizen videos and cable news have had a more positive than negative impact on the U.S. news environment over the past 10 years. However, the majority (54 percent) say that the impact of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter on the news environment has been negative, and 53 percent say political leaders using social media to directly communicate with the public has been more negative than positive.

The Gallup-Knight Foundation report on Trust, Media and Democracy explores how people receive news in the internet era, where they place their trust, how well they think the news media are doing in supporting democracy, and how technology is impacting our ability to stay informed. It captures public perceptions of media across a variety of groups highlighting similarities and differences across age, gender, race, education and political affiliation.

“This survey helps deepen our understanding of the challenges that so many people are having navigating the changing media landscape at a time of growing polarization and the spread of misinformation. It can help shape the conversation and inform solutions for those who care about the future of journalism and its important role in our democracy,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism.

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, The Washington Post will live broadcast a series of panels exploring the implications of the survey. Tune in at PostLive from 9:30-11 a.m. EST.

This report forms a key part of Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, which aims to strengthen the role of strong, trusted journalism as essential to a healthy democracy. In September 2017, Knight Foundation announced $2.5 million in support to launch the initiative.

For more findings and to read the full report visit: http://kng.ht/tmdreport

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

About Gallup

Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world.

Contact: Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, [email protected]