Young Adults Show Strong Interest in News Media, but Express Concern About the Impact of News On Democracy and Unity in the Country, Study Reveals

Jul 18, 2019

A new report released by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation reveals that a majority of young adults are concerned about the impact of news on democracy and unity in the country, expressing that news organizations might divide and polarize citizens. Conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, the report analyzes the findings of a survey of 1,660 adults between the ages of 18 and 34. It also surveyed large samples of African American and Hispanic participants to explore beliefs and behaviors across races and ethnicities. 

The study shows that young people believe some news sources are actively hurting democracy and corroding national unity. Sixty-four percent of young adults say their least-liked news source hurts democracy and 73% say their least-liked news source divides the country. Only 47% say their favorite news source helps unite it. When comparing partisan attitudes, 51% of Democrats say their favorite source unites the public, while 42% of Republicans say the same. 

Study findings are underscored by the frequency at which young people consume news, with 88 percent of young adults accessing it at least weekly, including 53% who do so every day. Other key findings from the report include:

  • Many young adults believe that news sources, even their favorite, have a liberal or conservative ideological slant: Overall, about 45%of young adults say their most-liked news source is neither liberal nor conservative whereas 42% say it is liberal and 13%say it is conservative. They are much more likely to see their least-liked source as holding a conservative slant. Only 23% feel their least-liked source is neutral.
  • Young adults largely believe that their race or ethnicity is not covered regularly in the media: Overall, 31% of young adults say that people of their race, or issues that affect people of their race, are rarely covered in their most-liked news sources. Forty-seven percent say the same thing about their least-liked news sources. Hispanics and African Americans are especially likely to say both their most- and least-liked source fail to regularly cover issues that affect them.
  • The majority of African American and Hispanic participants do not feel like media sources accurately or fairly portray their groups, when they do get coverage: Only 45% of African Americans and 40% of Hispanics say their most-liked source very accurately portrays them. Around 6 in 10 in both groups say their least-liked source portrays them slightly or not at all accurately.
  • A majority of young adults rely on news to make decisions, particularly young African American people: More than 60% of young adults use their favorite news source to decide which policies to support, and more than 50% do the same when deciding who should have their votes. Young African Americans are twice as likely to do this as young white Americans.
  • Young adults who are highly partisan rely on news to make decisions: 41% of young adults who identify strongly with a political party will use their favorite news source to make decisions about candidates, and 49% of these young adults will do the same when making decisions about policies to support.
  • Political affiliation has a big effect on perceptions of a news organization’s ideological slant: Democrats are especially likely to perceive an ideological slant to their most- and least-liked/favorite sources. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats see their favorite news source as liberal, while 36% of Republicans perceive their favorite news source as very or somewhat conservative. Also, more Democrats say their least-liked source is very conservative than Republicans say their least-liked source is very liberal (75% vs. 68%).
  • A majority of young adults share news regularly with their friends, family and social networks. Fifty-six percent of young adults share news stories at least weekly, with around 1 in 5 sharing news every day. Though young adults often share news they find interesting, helpful or entertaining, the survey found that many have concerns with the ideological and political leanings of news sources.
  • As young adults question the media’s coverage of race, many get news from ethnic media sources: 58% of African American and 52% of Hispanic young adults use ethnic media sources at least once per week. Seventy-five percent of Hispanics and 71% of African American young adults who say they regularly experience racial discrimination are more likely to use sources that provide news specific to their race or ethnicity.

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