We have good news and bad news. First, the good.
A new Gallup poll finds that Americans’ distrust in Old Media is at an all-time high, with 60% saying we have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. [To which my reaction is: Only 60%?] Republicans and Independents account for most of that 60%. In contrast, Democrats are the most trusting.
The bad news is that fewer Americans (only 39%) are closely following political news than in previous election years, in contrast to the 43% of Americans who closely followed political news in 2008. Republicans, though the most distrustful of the Old Media, are paying the closest attention: about 1 of every 2 Republicans.
Here are excerpts from Lymari Morales’ article for Gallup, Sept. 21, 2012:
The current gap between negative and positive views — 20 percentage points — is by far the highest Gallup has recorded since it began regularly asking the question in the 1990s. Trust in the media was much higher, and more positive than negative, in the years prior to 2004 — as high as 72% when Gallup asked this question three times in the 1970s.
This year’s decline in media trust is driven by independents and Republicans. The 31% and 26%, respectively, who express a great deal or fair amount of trust are record lows and are down significantly from last year. Republicans’ level of trust this year is similar to what they expressed in the fall of 2008, implying that they are especially critical of election coverage.
Independents are sharply more negative compared with 2008, suggesting the group that is most closely divided between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney is quite dissatisfied with its ability to get fair and accurate news coverage of this election.
More broadly, Republicans continue to express the least trust in the media, while Democrats express the most. Independents’ trust fell below the majority level in 2004 and has continued to steadily decline.
Attention Paid to Political News Lower Than in 2008
Americans tend to pay more attention to political news in presidential election years, and that is the case in 2012. However, Americans are less likely this year to be paying close attention to news about national politics than they were in 2008. The 39% who say they are paying close attention is up from last year — when Americans were paying a high level of attention compared with other non-election years — but down from 43% in September 2008.
Despite their record-low trust in media, Republicans are the partisan group most likely to be paying close attention to news about national politics, with the 48% who are doing so similar to the 50% in 2008 and up significantly from 38% in 2004. Independents and Democrats are less likely than Republicans to be paying close attention, with their levels of attention similar to 2008 and 2004.
Americans are clearly down on the news media this election year, with a record-high six in 10 expressing little or no trust in the mass media’s ability to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. This likely reflects the continuation of the trend seen in recent years, combined with the increased negativity toward the media that election years tend to bring. This is particularly consequential at a time when Americans need to rely on the media to learn about the platforms and perspectives of the two candidates vying to lead the country for the next four years.
The lower level of interest in news about national politics during this election year may also reflect the level of interest in the presidential election specifically. This survey was conducted immediately after the conclusion of both political conventions and thus may indicate the level of attention paid to those events in particular. Since this survey was conducted, Democrats’ enthusiasm about voting has swelled nationally and in swing states.
On a broad level, Americans’ high level of distrust in the media poses a challenge to democracy and to creating a fully engaged citizenry. Media sources must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans, the majority of whom see the media as biased one way or the other. At the same time, there is an opportunity for others outside the “mass media” to serve as information sources that Americans do trust. [such as blogs!]