Young Adults Concerned About the Impact of News on Polarization

Young Adults Concerned About the Impact of News on Polarization

A majority of young adults in the United States believe that certain news outlets are actively harming national unity and democracy, a report from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation finds.

Based on a survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago of nearly seventeen hundred adults between the ages of 18 and 34, the report, Young Adults' News Behaviors and Beliefs (20 pages, PDF), found that 73 percent of respondents — including 79 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans — believed the news source they liked least was dividing the country, while only 47 percent — including 51 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans — said their favorite news source was uniting it. Republican respondents were more likely than Democrats (10 percent vs. 3 percent) to say their favorite news source was dividing the country, while nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all respondents said the news source they liked least was hurting democracy and 58 percent said their favorite news source was helping democracy.

According to the report, 45 percent of respondents said their favorite news source was neither liberal nor conservative, 42 percent said it was liberal, and 13 percent said it was conservative. When asked about their least favorite source, 48 percent said it was conservative, 28 percent said it was liberal, and 23 percent said it was neither. Democrats were more likely to see their favorite source as liberal (57 percent) and their least liked source as very conservative (75 percent) than Republicans were to see their favorite source as conservative (36 percent) and their least liked source as very liberal (68 percent).

The survey also found that African-American (28 percent) and Hispanic/Latinx (21 percent) respondents were more likely than white respondents (13 percent) to share news stories with their friends, family, or social media followers at least once a day; that African-American (45 percent) and Hispanic/Latinx (40 percent) respondents were less likely than white respondents (57 percent) to say their race/ethnicity was accurately portrayed by their favorite news outlets; and that respondents who reported experiencing racial discrimination were more likely to get their news from racial/ethnic media, including 75 percent and 54 percent of Hispanics/Latinx who regularly and occasionally experienced discrimination and 71 percent and 61 percent of African Americans who had such experiences.

"The study suggests that young people's confidence in the media is waning, with a majority saying that some news organizations pose a direct threat to our democracy," said Sam Gill, Knight's  vice president for communities and impact. "This erosion of trust has important implications for the way young people will seek and receive information in the future."

"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." John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Press Release 07/09/2019. "Young Adults' News Behaviors and Beliefs." John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Report 07/09/2019.