In 2018, Gallup and Knight Foundation published the inaugural American Views report as part of their Trust, Media and Democracy research program. This landmark study of Americans’ attitudes toward the news media and its role in our democracy is part of the ongoing Gallup/Knight research effort. The 2018 report found that while Americans valued the role of the news media as an important institution in a free society, they did not believe it was fulfilling its democratic roles well. Political party was the primary determining factor driving Americans’ opinions of and trust in the media.
For the 2020 American Views survey, Gallup and Knight polled more than 20,000 U.S. adults and found deepening pessimism and further partisan entrenchment about how the news media delivers on its democratic mandate for factual, trustworthy information. Many Americans feel the media’s critical role of informing and holding those in power accountable is compromised by increasing bias. As such, Americans have not only lost confidence in the ideal of an objective media, they believe news organizations actively support the partisan divide. At the same time, Americans have not lost sight of the value of news — strong majorities uphold the ideal that the news media is fundamental to a healthy democracy.
As evidenced in this study, party affiliation remains the key predictor of attitudes about
the news media. Republicans express more negative sentiments on every aspect of media performance compared to Democrats and independents. Attitudes also differ by age — likely a reflection, in part, of generational differences in news consumption, as this study documents a concerning negative trend in young Americans’ opinions of the news media.
This report is based on data collected between Nov. 8, 2019, and Feb. 16, 2020, just before the novel coronavirus became a global pandemic and the burgeoning movement for racial justice swept the nation. The low levels of public trust in the nation’s polarized media environment have left open the possibility for dangerous false narratives to take root in all segments of society during these emergent crises. At a time when factual, trustworthy information is especially critical to public health and the future of our democracy, the striking trends documented in these pages are cause for concern. American Views offers new insights into how the public is responding to these challenges in their own media consumption and their thoughts about how to address them.
➤AMERICANS STILL VALUE THE MEDIA’S TRADITIONAL ROLES
- The vast majority of Americans (84%) say that, in general, the news media is “critical” (49%) or “very important” (35%) to democracy.
- Americans are more likely today to say the media’s role in democracy is “critical,” up five percentage points since 2017.
- Large majorities say it is “critical” or “very important” for the news media to provide accurate and fair news reports (92%), ensure Americans are informed about public affairs (91%) and hold leaders accountable for their actions (85%).
- More Americans say the media is performing poorly rather than well in accomplishing these goals than did in 2017.
- A majority of Americans currently see “a great deal” (49%) or “a fair amount” (37%) of political bias in news coverage. The percentage seeing a great deal of bias is up from 45% in 2017.
- Most Americans see bias in their go-to news source; 20% see “a great deal” and another 36% see “a fair amount” of bias in the news source they rely on most often.
- Given the choice, however, more Americans say they are concerned about bias in the news other people are getting (69%) than say they worry about their own news being biased (29%).
- Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they see too much bias in the reporting of news that is supposed to be objective as “a major problem” (73%), up from 65% in the 2017 study.
- Americans perceive inaccurate news to be intentional — either because the reporter is misrepresenting the facts (54%) or making them up entirely (28%).
- Nearly 8 in 10 Americans (79%) say news organizations they distrust are trying to persuade people to adopt a certain viewpoint, while 12% say they are trying to report the news accurately and fairly but are unable to do so.
- Eight percent of Americans say distrusted media are trying to ruin the country, driven largely by the 1 in 5 Americans who identify as “very conservative” and 1 in 10 Republicans who feel this way.