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Trust in media continues to drop in latest Gallup poll

Americans’ trust in the media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly has edged down four percentage points since last year to 36 percent, according to a new Gallup poll. A separate poll finds that America ranks last out of 29 countries in trust of their national media.

In all, 7 percent of U.S. adults say they have “a great deal” and 29 percent “a fair amount” of trust and confidence in newspapers, television and radio news reporting — which, combined, is four points above the 32 percent record low in 2016, amid the divisive presidential election campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In addition, 29 percent of the public currently registers “not very much” trust and 34 percent have “none at all.

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Between 1972 and 1976, 68 percent to 72 percent of Americans expressed trust in the mass media; yet, by 1997, when the question was next asked, trust had dropped to 53 percent. Trust in the media, which has averaged 45 percent since 1997, has not reached the majority level since 2003.

Partisans’ trust in the media continues to be sharply polarized. Currently, 68 percent of Democrats, 11 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of independents say they trust the media a great deal or fair amount. The 57-point gap in Republicans’ and Democrats’ confidence is within the 54- to 63-point range for the two groups since 2017. While both Democrats’ and independents’ trust has slid five points over the past year, Republicans has held steady.

Historically, Republicans’ confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the news media’s reporting has not risen above 52 percent over the past quarter century. At the same time, Democrats’ confidence has not fallen below the 2016 reading of 51 percent. For their part, independents’ trust in the media has not been at the majority level since 2003.

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Just as Americans’ trust in the three branches of government is faltering, so too is their confidence in the fourth estate — the media. Confidence in the media among Republicans over the past five years is at unprecedented lows. After a brief recovery in trust among Democrats and independents early in the Trump administration, their trust has fallen off a little in recent years. Democratic trust remains well above where it was before Trump came into office and made attacks on the media a core message of his presidency.

trust media

In June, Reuters released an international poll that found the United States ranks last in media trust — at 29% — among 92,000 news consumers surveyed in 46 countries. That’s worse than Poland, worse than the Philippines, worse than Peru. (Finland leads at 65%.)

The annual digital news report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford also found some improvement in trust in nearly all the countries surveyed — probably thanks to COVID-19 coverage — but not in the U.S. where the low rating was flat year to year. One possibility for the low trust in U.S. Covid coverage is the censorship of medical professionals who were at odds with either what the media was  reporting, or at odds with conflicting government data and mandates.

In the Reuters poll, local news, both print and broadcast, fared better than national news.

But Americans continue to only want free news. Interest in local news and willingness to pay for it was not strong, according to a Poynter Institute article. “Only 21% in the U.S. said that they pay for news online. Of those who do, 31% said they pay for The New York Times, 24% for The Washington Post and only 23% for the site of a local or regional paper,” stated Poynter.

Locally, a 2018 Poynter Media Trust Survey showed that 76% of Americans have a great deal or fair amount of trust in local television news and 73% trust local newspapers. Compare that to the 40% of Americans that Gallup says have confidence in national outlets.

“The trend continues when you break it down by political party affiliation. According to the Poynter survey, 88% of democrats trust local television news and newspapers. However, the high marks continue as 71% of republicans trust local TV news and 62% trust their local newspaper. Compare that to Gallup’s survey that shows only 10% of republicans trust national media,” wrote

The poll also found the most popular local news topic, by a wide margin (62%), was weather. Staples of local newspaper coverage like politics (33%) and education (16%) lagged. Those surveyed indicated a preference for local broadcast (52%) as a source over newspapers (16%).

–Alan Goforth and Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice