Gallup-Knight Foundation Report: Americans See Media As Key To Democracy But Increasingly Don’t Trust It

Jan 18, 2018

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%) say they can identify a news source that they believe reports the news objectively. And 43% say they have a very or somewhat unfavorable opinion of the news media, while 23% 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%, 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% of Republicans view the news media in an unfavorable light. Similarly, while 45% of Americans say there is “a great deal” of political bias in news coverage (up from 25% in 1989), this number is 67% among Republicans, versus only 26% of Democrats.

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%) say there are enough sources to sort out facts, down from 66% 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% of Americans said individuals, and the same percentage said the news media. Republicans tilt toward placing the main responsibility on the individual (53%), while Democrats tilt toward placing responsibility on the media (53%).
  • Ambivalence extends to whether technology companies should be regulated: The majority (57%) 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% 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%) say that the impact of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter on the news environment has been negative, and 53% 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.

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The Gallup-Knight Foundation surveyed 19,196 Americans aged 18 and older, about their media habits and belief. The research, compiled in "American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy," revealed that most Americans believe it is now harder to be well informed and to determine which news is accurate. EContent had the chance to ask Sam Gill, Knight Foundation VP for Communities and Impact, a few questions about the report's findings, what they say about us, and what the media can do to build trust among audiences.