US Adults’ Trust in Mass Media Rises Again

October 25, 2018

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Demographics & Audiences | Industries | Media & Entertainment | Youth & Gen X

Almost half (45%) of American adults now trust the mass media, representing an uptick from 41% last year and a low of 32% in 2016, per survey results from Gallup. Although trust in the mass media hasn’t recovered to levels observed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it is now higher that at any point since 2009, according to the report.

This year the percentage of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence and trust in the mass media when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly – at 14% – is the highest since 2003. Broader levels of trust (measured as “great deal” or “fair amount”) have been higher more recently, though, including a 50% mark in 2005.

This year’s continued recovery is being driven again by Democrats. This year an impressive 76% of Democrats surveyed trust mass media a “great deal” or a “fair amount” – the highest level since Gallup began sorting by party affiliation 20 years ago.

Independents are also registering a higher level of confidence this year (up 5% points to 42%). Republicans also express more confidence, but there is a vast gulf in confidence between them (just 21% trusting) and Democrats (76% trusting).

Gallup attributes Republicans’ skepticism at least in part to President Trump’s attacks on the “mainstream media.” Nonetheless, the gap in trust between Republicans and Democrats is slightly down this year from the high set last year, which was the biggest gap in the survey’s then-45-year history.

Similarly, research released earlier this year by Edelman found that trust in the media largely cleaves along political lines. Whereas just 27% of Trump voters in the US reported trusting the media as an institution, that figure soared to 61% among Clinton voters.

Interestingly, there is another gap in media’s perception, and it relates to age. Gallup’s data indicates that only one-third of adults ages 18-29 trust mass media this year, compared to 53% of people ages 65 and older.

This gap seems to have developed only in recent years, perhaps as young adults grow cautious of “fake news.” From 1997-2005, the 18-29 and 65+ brackets displayed equal levels of trust in the mass media, but they have grown apart in more recent years, with the 65+ group showing levels of trust 10-points higher than the youngest group during the 2007-2018 period.

That’s due to a larger decline in trust among the youngest than oldest group. While the 65+ bracket has seen just a 6%-point decline in trust over that time, the 18-29-year-old cohort has seen its trust in the media plummet by 18%-points in the same period.

About the Data: The results are based on a survey conducted in September 2018 among 1,035 US adults ages 18 and older.

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