Americans losing confidence in idea of unbiased media, survey finds

Americans losing confidence in idea of unbiased media, survey finds

While Americans increasingly value the role the news media plays in U.S. democracy, they are losing confidence in the idea of an objective media, a report from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup finds. 

Based on a survey of more than twenty thousand American adults conducted between November and February, the report, American Views 2020: Trust, media and democracy (63 pages, PDF), found that 84 percent of respondents said the news media was either "critical" (49 percent) or "very important (35 percent) to a healthy democracy. But while large majorities viewed as "critical" or "very important" the news media's role in providing accurate and fair reporting (92 percent), ensuring that Americans are informed about public affairs (91 percent), and holding leaders accountable (85 percent), significant numbers of respondents said it was performing these roles "poorly" or "very poorly," while 86 percent said they saw "a great deal" (49 percent) or "fair amount" (37 percent) of political bias in news coverage and 73 percent said bias in news reporting was "a major problem."

The second in a series of American Views reports published since 2018, the survey found that respondents under age 30 were the least likely and those age 65 and older were the most likely to view the news media favorably (19 percent vs. 44 percent), and that Republicans were more likely than Democrats or independents to view the news media unfavorably (71 percent vs. 22 percent and 52 percent), to say the increasing number of news sources reporting from a particular point of view is "a major problem" (77 percent vs. 61 percent and 71 percent), and to agree that attacks against the news media are justified (61 percent vs. 16 percent and 36 percent). And while 79 percent of all respondents said news organizations should do more to diversify their reporting staffs, Democrats (49 percent) and African Americans (60 percent) were more likely to prioritize racial/ethnic diversity in hiring than Republicans (17 percent), independents (31 percent), or white Americans (27 percent), while Republicans (51 percent) and white respondents (35 percent) were more likely to prioritize diversity in political views than African Americans (14 percent) or Democrats (16 percent).

The survey also found that 48 percent of all respondents said the media bears "a great deal" of blame for political division in the United States, while 36 percent said it bears "a moderate amount." At the same time, nearly identical percentages said the media could do "a great deal" (49 percent) or "a moderate amount" (35 percent) to bridge those divisions.

"Most Americans have lost confidence in the media to deliver the news objectively," said Sam Gill, senior vice president and chief program officer at the Knight Foundation. "This is corrosive for our democracy."

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

"American Views 2020: Trust, media and democracy." John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup report 08/04/2020. "Gallup/Knight Poll: Americans’ concerns about media bias deepen, even as they see it as vital for democracy." John S. and James L. Knight Foundation press release 08/04/2020.