Pew: Left/Right Categories Giving Way to Populist/Establishment Divide

Five Stars movement's leader Beppe Grillo shows a paper reading 'Out of the Euro - 50.000 signatures in a week-end' during a press conference on December 18, 2014 in Rome.
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty

People in Western Europe are more divided by their populist leanings than by traditional left/right political categories in their trust of mainstream news media, a Pew study revealed Monday.

In a survey conducted in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the Pew Research Center found that those who hold populist views value and trust the mainstream news media less than those who are unsympathetic to populism. Populists also believe the traditional media do a poor job covering politically charged issues, such as immigration, the economy and crime, Pew said.

While alternative news media have been growing in importance as a source of news across the board, this is especially true for those with populist leanings.

In France, Spain, Italy and Germany, Pew found that people who report populist sympathies are more likely to get their news from social media platforms than those without such views.

In the eight countries surveyed, Facebook is the most frequently mentioned social media news source, with over 60 percent of social media news consumers citing Facebook as their prime social media platform for news.

While trust in the media also splits somewhat along the left/right ideological spectrum in Spain, Germany and Sweden, the difference is far greater between those with and without populist leanings.

In Spain, France, the UK, and Italy, only 25 percent of self-described populists expressed any confidence in the mainstream news media, while those without populist leanings are much more likely to express some trust in these media (8 to 31 percentage points more).

The UK stands out as somewhat singular, Pew noted, first because British adults are the most likely to have a common news source, with 48 percent saying the BBC is their primary source for news. Second, British express very low levels of trust and approval of their news media overall, with a mere 5 percent of adults in the UK saying they trust the news media “a lot” and another 27 percent saying they trust the news media “somewhat.”

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

.