Curator note: The Pew Research Center is a well respected research organization. This study is particularly relevant and important in our search for common ground.
Americans’ Attitudes About the News Media Deeply Divided Along Partisan Lines
Democrats and Republicans, who already tend to place their trust in different news sources and rely on different outlets for political news, now disagree more than ever on a fundamental issue of the news media’s role in society: whether news organizations’ criticism of political leaders primarily keeps them from doing things they shouldn’t – or keeps them from doing their job.
Today, in the early days of the Trump administration, roughly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) say news media criticism keeps leaders in line (sometimes called the news media’s “watchdog role”), while only about four-in-ten Republicans (42%) say the same. That is a 47-percentage-point gap, according to a new online survey conducted March 13-27, 2017, among 4,151 U.S. adults who are members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. The gap stands in sharp contrast to January-February 2016, when Americans were asked the same question. Then, in the midst of the presidential primary season, nearly the same share of Democrats (74%) and Republicans (77%) supported the watchdog role.
Pew Research Center has asked this question since 1985. While Republicans have been more likely to support a watchdog role during Democratic presidencies and vice versa, the distance between the parties has never approached the 47-point gap that exists today. The widest gap up to now occurred during the George W. Bush administration, when Democrats were 28 points more likely than Republicans to support a watchdog role. It should be noted that prior to 2016, the question was asked by telephone rather than the web, which can elicit slightly different response patterns.1 Even taking possible mode effects into account, though, this year’s difference is so stark that it would still be the largest gap in the Center’s polling on this question.
This partisan split is found in other attitudes about the news media, though none in so dramatic a fashion as with the watchdog role. Compared with 2016, Democrats and Republicans are more divided on whether the press favors one side in its political coverage, on how much trust they have in national news media, and on how good a job national news organizations are doing in keeping them informed.