Poll: Americans Distrust, Blame Biased Media for Political Division

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Gregg Newton/AFP/Getty Images

A study released by Gallup and Knight Foundation on Tuesday suggests that Americans are more fed up with the news media than ever.

The released poll shows that the American people are deeply divided — and blame media bias for the problem. 36% of surveyed Americans lay a “moderate amount” of today’s partisan hostility at the feet of the media, and 48% of them believe news outlets have contributed “a great deal” to the problem.

That same overall percentage of Americans believe that the press is “critical” or “very important” to democracy but are unimpressed by the job they have been doing. 37% say they have witnessed a “fair amount” of bias in reporting, while 49% say there is “a great deal” of bias, and a combined 56% even admitted to seeing some level of bias in their primary news source.

But as you might expect, U.S. citizens are even divided on the division:

Democrats and Republicans differ greatly in their ratings of the media on every aspect of performance, including providing objective news reports, holding political and business leaders accountable for their actions and helping Americans stay informed about current affairs.

Sixty-nine percent of Americans, including 61% of Democrats, say the increasing number of news sources reporting from a particular point of view is “a major problem.” In contrast, 77% of Republicans say the same.

We do, however, seem to agree on one thing: 78% of Americans feel that the spread of fake news is “a major problem” that exceeds all others in the mainstream media environment. 54% say they believe news outlets are deliberately “misrepresenting the facts,” while 28% think they are “making them up entirely.”

80% of respondents believe the media is currently under attack, but disagree on whether those attacks are warranted. While 70% of Democrats see the attacks as unjustified, 61% of Republicans believe the media is getting its just desserts.

John Sands, director of learning and impact at the Knight Foundation, worries about the negative effect this turmoil has on the fabric of the country itself. “That’s a bad thing for democracy,” he said. “Our concern is that when half of Americans have some sort of doubt about the veracity of the news they consume, it’s going to be impossible for our democracy to function.”

“We’re starting to see more retrenchment among those who have already expressed deep concerns,” he said. “Moving the dial on these attitudes becomes more and more difficult for media organizations.”

Knight and Gallup surveyed 20,046 American adults for the study between November 8, 2019, and February 16, 2020 — with an estimated margin of error at about 1%.

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