December 7, 2020

American democracy is being tested. That was one of the conclusions drawn from a poll released today by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, which found deep partisan divisions in Americans’ perceptions of both media coverage and the efficacy of the democratic process.

The poll surveyed 2,752 respondents between Nov. 9-15, following up on a survey of 1,552 respondents between Sept. 24-Oct. 5. Overall, 59% of Americans said the news media was responsible in its election coverage — with 93% of Democrats approving compared to just 21% of Republicans.

“That’s a striking degree of saturation,” said Jesse Holcomb, principal advisor to the Knight Foundation’s trust, media and democracy research. “It’s one of those areas where the partisan shaping of that viewpoint is near total.”

55% of Americans believed the democratic process worked well, with 92% of Democrats agreeing compared to just 11% of Republicans. Holcomb noted historically polling has always shown a level of skepticism among the losing side about the results of the election.

“I think what’s unique this year is the vast degree to which we see this divides,” he said. Holcomb cautioned against drawing too many broad conclusions about American attitudes and argued that surveys in the months to come will be better able to measure the entrenchment of these perceptions, particularly the given unprecedented actions of President Donald Trump to undermine the results of the election.

“That may have some impact on public attitudes for the time to come,” Holcomb said, “but we do have to wait and see exactly, like I say, how sticky that is.”

The survey showed there was a greater concern among Americans about the impact of misinformation on the election results. Overall, 84% said they were exposed to either a great deal or a fair amount of misinformation, with 64% of Americans saying they were exposed to more misinformation in this cycle than in 2016, including majorities of both Democrats (52%) and Republicans (79%).

Roughly 75% of all three groups identified Facebook as the biggest source of political misinformation. Cable television and Twitter were the second and third most cited sources, although there was less uniform partisan consensus about their impact.

There was also a partisan divide on the actions taken by social media companies to fight misinformation during the election. 66% of Republicans thought social media companies went too far in their efforts to prevent election misinformation, while 60% of Democrats believed they didn’t go far enough.

Republicans overwhelmingly believed misinformation swayed the election in favor of Joe Biden, with 76% saying Donald Trump would have won had misinformation not played a factor, compared to 33% of independents, 2% of Democrats and 34% of all Americans. The majority of Democrats believed misinformation did not play a role in the election, but 43% believed his margin would have been bigger if misinformation did not play a role.

Holcomb quipped the only thing all groups seemed to agree on was that the country is deeply divided. The survey found a majority of Americans believe internet companies and cable news have played the biggest role in stoking the national divide. However, Holcomb referenced an August Gallup poll showing a plurality of Americans (49%) believed the news media could do “great deal” to heal those divisions.

“There is a role for journalism to play here,” he said, “and an enduring belief among the American people that it’s possible for the news media to play that role.”

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
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