A recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights shows that many Americans believe the news media is doing more harm than good when it comes to democracy and political polarization in the United States. Almost three-quarters of U.S. adults believe that the news media is contributing to political polarization, and just under half say they have little to no trust in the media’s ability to report the news fairly and accurately.
The survey also revealed that many Americans are concerned about the spread of misinformation and the role played by the media, politicians, and social media companies in spreading it. However, many also expressed concern about growing threats to journalists’ safety.
The breakdown in trust may lead many Americans to reject the mainstream news media, often in favor of social media and unreliable websites that spread misleading claims and can become partisan echo chambers, further fueling polarization. While a slim majority of Americans say they have some degree of confidence in the news media’s ability to report the news fully and fairly, only 16% say they are very confident, and 45% say they have little to no confidence at all.
Four in 10 respondents say the press is doing more to hurt American democracy, while only about 2 in 10 say the press is doing more to protect it. An additional 4 in 10 say neither applies. Republicans view the news media less favorably than Democrats, with 61% of Republicans saying the news media is hurting democracy compared with 23% of Democrats and 36% of independents who don’t lean toward either party.
The fragmentation of the media ecosystem, driven largely by the internet, has contributed to polarization. Experts say that media fragmentation and misinformation are making a clear impact on America’s heightened political divisions. Concern about the threat posed by misinformation unites Americans of both parties, with about 9 in 10 U.S. adults saying misinformation is a problem.
Social media plays a significant role, with nearly two-thirds of respondents saying that when they see a news story on social media, they expect it to be inaccurate. Those who said they rely on social media regularly for their news were somewhat more likely to trust it than others.
Overall, about 6 in 10 said the news media bears blame for the spread of misinformation, and a similar percentage also said it has a large amount of responsibility for addressing it. Majorities also think others, including social media companies and politicians, share in the responsibility both for the spread of misinformation and for stopping it from spreading.
When it comes to protecting the freedom of the press in the U.S., 44% of respondents say the U.S. government is doing a good job, more than the 24% who say it’s doing a bad job. However, most Americans are at least somewhat concerned when it comes to the safety of journalists, with roughly a third saying they’re very concerned or extremely concerned about attacks on the press.