When it comes to the media, Americans’ overall trust has been waning for some time, as numerous surveys show. But the decline isn’t uniform among all groups. Even before the recent crisis in Afghanistan, which brought renewed criticism to the media, a clear split over the trustworthiness of the U.S. media emerged, data from our latest I&I/TIPP Poll confirms.
That includes a wide divergence of opinion by gender, race, region, political ideology, schooling, and even income, showing a nation divided not just by its politics and ideology, but by how it views its basic news and opinion sources.
The data all come from the Media Trust Indexes in the monthly I&I/TIPP poll, conducted by TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence. The most recent poll was taken online from July 28 through July 30, and includes responses from 1,322 adults, with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 points. It is part of a broad new collaboration between Issues & Insights and TIPP to gauge public opinion on key issues, including media trust.
Overall, readings for traditional media outlets edged up slightly from 42.8 in July to 44.8 in August, with 50 considered a breakeven level. For alternate media, the readings rose from 41.1 in July to 41.6 in August. But major differences among Americans become apparent after taking a closer look at underlying demographic data.
The most pronounced gap of all is by political party.
Those who claim Democratic Party affiliation hold some of the highest trust in the traditional U.S. media. Democrats (65.4) handily exceed both Republicans (23.9) and independents and others (33.8).
The figures for the alternate media are roughly similar: Democrats (55.1), Republicans (31.2), independents (30.7). This clearly shows that, when it comes to politics, those in the center and right of our political discourse clearly see a “trust” problem with our media, whether conventional or digital.
But politics, as we noted, aren’t the only divide. That can be seen in the surprisingly wide gender gap between men and women when it comes to the media.
Unlike men, women show little faith in the big media that dominate our information landscape, and only slightly more trust in the fast-growing, so-called alternative media, mainly online sources of news and analysis.
In August, the traditional media trust index for women was just 39.9, the index for men was 49.8. That’s a significant 9.9-point difference, a gap that has largely held up all this year. The split was similar for alternative media: Men (46.9) were considerably higher in trust than women (36.4).
Gender wasn’t the only big difference. As we noted, such splits are common among many groups and across many regions.
A sharp Red State-Blue State split is also evident. The mostly Red State South (40.4) and Midwest (39.1) are far less trusting in the traditional media than the more-liberal Blue State regions of the West (52.1) and Northeast (51.5).
Race is yet another dividing point. White Americans (41.1) show far less trust in the traditional media than blacks and Hispanics (54.7). That difference holds up for the alternate media as well, with blacks and Hispanics (50.5) far more trusting in the digital information world than Whites (38.4).
OK, what’s going on here? Why are the divergences in media trust among so many groups so large?
Likely suspects include growing political differences since the beginning of the year after a hotly contested and bitterly debated presidential election; the COVID-19 lockdown and mask debates, which have taken on an increasingly nasty political hue in recent months; the growing debate over a record flood of illegal aliens across our southern border; and, now, the disastrous withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan.
Underlying all this, however, is the well-documented perception by many Americans of a liberal bias among many, but not all, national media outlets and their web-based alternative media brethren. If so, it should be no surprise that trust in the media basically follows America’s sharp left-right political divide.
Recent headlines, tweets and news stories underscore the divisive nature of today’s media, which seem more intent sometimes scoring political points than delivering facts and vital information to their readers.
And the “woke newsroom” is a real thing, as recent news about the media clearly shows. Americans, for better or worse, seem to believe they aren’t being served by a mass media that ladles out ideology rather than facts and context.
It’s important to note that these data were collected before the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle that left thousands of Americans, Europeans and Afghan allies stranded in the country following its shocking takeover by the Taliban.
I&I/TIPP will continue to cull more data from polls in the coming weeks and months on topics of interest to all Americans. TIPP has the distinction of being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.