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Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to support news media’s watchdog role

A new global study finds a 47 percentage point partisan divide on trust in journalism in the US.

John Lund/Getty Images

The partisan gap on whether people trust the media has been obvious in the US for a while. A new survey suggests politically polarized opinions of the news media are much stronger in the US than elsewhere.

Following up on their yearly survey of US news media habits, the Pew Research Center asked residents of 38 countries about their views on journalism in their countries. In all the countries surveyed, people were more likely to say the media was accurate than that it was fair: They generally agreed the news did a better job covering the most important news events and covering them accurately. There was more disagreement on whether the media was fair to all sides of political issues. But it’s on this last point that the US really stood out.

While partisan differences on the issue of “politically fair” coverage appear in 20 of the 38 countries surveyed, only five countries show a gap of at least 20 percentage points: Hungary and Turkey with a 20 percentage point difference, Sweden with a 24-point difference, and Israel, with a 26-point difference

The US, meanwhile, has a 34-point gap.

Political divides on whether news media cover political issues fairly.
Pew Research Center

Although Pew reports that political identification is the primary source of division in media attitudes (more so than education, age, or gender), this doesn’t mean that perception falls neatly along a left-right spectrum.

Instead, globally, attitudes toward the media align more with a person’s satisfaction on how the country is running overall, as well as support for the party in power — with supporters of the governing party much more likely to rate media coverage fairly.

The US is also an anomaly: Even though Republicans have control of all three branches of government, Republicans are also the most likely to say coverage is biased.

As one example, Pew’s survey of US residents this past May found Democrats are 47 percentage points more likely than Republicans to support news media’s watchdog role, just one potential implication of widespread belief in a biased press corps.

Percentage of US adults who think that criticism from news organizations keeps political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done.
Pew Research Center

The trend begins to make sense when you consider the tendency of President Trump and other well-known conservatives to condemn the news media — combined with a pervasive belief in a liberal media bias.

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