A majority of Americans believe the media is vital for democracy, but see an increasing level of bias in news coverage, a new report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation found.
About 84% of Americans said the news media is “critical” or “very important” to democracy, according to the report. However, 49% of those surveyed see “a great deal” of political bias in news coverage.
“Most Americans have lost confidence in the media to deliver the news objectively,” said Sam Gill, Knight’s senior vice president and chief program officer. “This is corrosive for our democracy.”
Gallup and Knight polled more than 20,000 U.S. adults in their latest report, “American Views 2020: Trust, Media and Democracy.” It builds on a previous report conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation in 2018.
Political affiliations played a key role in determining people’s views on the press. While 22% of Democrats and 51% of independents have a “somewhat” or “very” unfavorable opinion of the news media, roughly three-fourths of Republicans felt the same way, according to the report.
Political affiliation’s role is reflected throughout the report, particularly in determining whether political attacks on the press are warranted. While 80% of Americans believe the press is being politically undermined, 70% of Democrats believe the attacks are not merited; adversely, 61% of Republicans believe the attacks are justifiable.
A majority (79%) also believe that the press needs to diversify its reporting staff, according to the report. However, political affiliation and race also played a key role in determining what that diversification would entail. Black Americans and Democrats prioritized racial and ethnic diversity, while Republicans and white individuals leaned toward prioritizing diversity in political views.
Four in five Americans also perceived misinformation online as “a major problem.” Nearly three quarters of Americans (73%) want big tech companies to find ways to exclude false or hateful information online.
The report also highlights the role local news plays in civic engagement.
Roughly 31% of the individuals surveyed said they followed news in their community “very closely,” which is up from 25% in 2017. Those who followed their local news sources were more likely to vote in local elections. They were less likely to say, “people like me don’t have any say in what the government does.”
A majority also believed that the press played a role in creating political division in the United States. About 48% of those polled believed the press holds “a great deal” of the blame for political division in the U.S., and another 36% believe the press holds “a moderate amount” of the blame.
However, a nearly identical percentage believes the press can help heal the divide.
“Even as Americans believe the media is to blame for the political divide in the country, they largely see a role for the media in healing that divide,” according to the report. “As America now faces a catastrophic and deepening health and financial crisis and crescendo cries for racial justice that test our social cohesion, finding shared, fact-based narratives in the media will be more important than ever.”
Nicole Asbury is a senior at the University of Kansas studying journalism, and women, gender and sexuality studies. She can be reached on Twitter @NicoleAsbury or via email@example.com.