A growing number of Americans view the news media as biased even as majorities continue to believe that an independent press is essential to a functional democracy.
A major trust-in-media poll of 20,000 Americans by Gallup and The Knight Foundation found that 86 percent of the people surveyed between Nov. 8, 2019, and Feb. 16, 2020, believed that the media is biased, up from 62 percent in 2007.
“Most Americans have lost confidence in the media to deliver the news objectively,” Sam Gill, Knight’s senior vice president at The Knight Foundation, said in a statement. “This is corrosive for our democracy.”
As in other surveys about the media, the poll found a broad partisan gap in the perception of media bias. Republicans were more than twice as likely (72 percent) as Democrats (28 percent) to believe there is a “great deal” of bias in news coverage.
But the view that there is a significant bias cuts across party lines, with 79 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of independents, and 94 percent of Republicans saying there is either “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of media bias. Overall, half of Americans believe the media is very biased.
Amid the concerns about bias, the majority of Americans (84 percent) still believe that it is either “critical” (49 percent) or “very important” for the news media to report news accurately and provide a check on government, corporations, and other seats of power.
Republicans’ concern about media bias is likely the result of overwhelmingly negative coverage of the Trump presidency. Between the beginning of the impeachment proceedings in 2019 and the exoneration vote in February, ABC, CBS, and NBC dedicated 77 times more coverage to impeachment, in terms of time spent, than to President Donald Trump’s economic successes, according to a study by the Media Research Center.
The coverage was 93 percent negative when it came to Trump, another study found. The results were in line with MRC’s earlier reviews of coverage in 2017 and 2018, which found that the media was 90 percent negative when covering Trump. The Washington Post had more than 25 times more negative than positive headlines on Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
Trump harshly criticized the media on the campaign trail in 2016 and has continued to do so since. The poll respondents were divided on whether these and other attacks on the media were justified. Among Republicans, 61 percent say the attacks are justified, compared to just 22 percent of Democrats.
However, concern is growing about all forms of bias. A growing number of people said that more news sources are “reporting from a particular point of view,” that there is “too much bias in the selection of what stories news organizations cover or don’t cover,” and that there is “too much bias” in stories that should be covered objectively. More than 9 in 10 respondents said the bias is a “major problem.”
Americans are generally more concerned with bias in the coverage of news outlets viewed by others (69 percent) rather than their own news sources (29 percent), the poll found.