Study Finds Close Link Between Political Party and Trust in News

(CN) – Americans’ political affiliations and their support for President Trump directly correlate with their trust in news and journalists, the Pew Research Center said in an analysis released Thursday.

As President Donald Trump points to CNN’s Jim Acosta, a White House aide takes a microphone from him during a news conference at the White House on Nov. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In an analysis of more than 50 individual surveys conducted since 2016, researchers found that support or opposition to President Donald Trump corresponds with their belief that journalists do or do not follow ethical standards.

For example, 85% of Republicans who strongly support Trump said journalists have low or very low ethical standards. In contrast, Democrats who strongly disapprove of the president were far less likely (31%) to say the same.

Regarding skepticism of the media, respondents from opposing parties showed wide gaps in their responses to questions about reporting practices and goals. For example, 76% of Democratic respondents said that they had a great or fair amount of confidence that journalists will act in the public’s best interests, whereas only 30% of Republicans said the same.

Though majorities from both parties affirmed that they trust information from national news organizations, there was nonetheless a 22-point disparity between the 64% of Republicans and 86% of Democrats who said that.

Professed political awareness also had a polarizing effect on opinions regarding journalistic standards. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans who characterized themselves as highly politically aware said that journalists have low or very low ethical standards. Republicans with less political awareness were slightly less likely to criticize journalists, at 73%.

In contrast, Democrats with high political awareness were much less likely (17%)  to say journalists have low ethical standards, compared to 53% of Democrats with less political awareness.

In essence, high political awareness combined with partisanship had a direct effect on how respondents viewed journalists overall.

This trend was further demonstrated by researchers measuring respondents’ loyalty to their chosen news sources. High political awareness in respondents from either party led to higher loyalty to their news sources of choice.

Forty-four percent of highly aware Republicans professed loyalty to their news source of choice, and 53% of highly aware Democrats said the same. In contrast, 29% of Republicans with less political awareness were loyal to their news sources, compared to 33% of Democrats who were less politically aware.

Researchers also measured whether respondents trusted other people in general, and found that those who tend not to trust others were also less likely to trust journalists. For example, 63% of “high trusters” said that they were confident that journalists act in the public’s best interests, whereas 47% of “low trusters” said the same.

Low trusters were less favorable to journalists in each question to varying degrees, including public interest, ethical standards, trust in national news, news loyalty, the media’s job as a watchdog and fairness to all sides.

Overall, the data reiterated the deep partisan divide in American politics, and the diagnosis centered around both trust in media and trust in each other. Distrust in media was shown to be a proxy distrust of the opposing party, as the underlying implication is that media organizations tailor their coverage to affirm the beliefs of politically divided audiences.

As a microcosm, Trump as president-elect refused to answer a question from CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta during a press conference on Jan. 11, 2017. Trump’s rebuttal was simple: “You are fake news.”

The president’s supporters saw the move as a triumph over a perceived biased and unreliable news organization, and those opposed to the president saw a direct attack on the press as a whole. Nearly three years later, researchers found that such a phenomenon has been embedded into the politics of news consumption.

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