Two new Gallup polls have found that wide swaths of the American population believe that the media is biased, inaccurate and full of misinformation – just as President Donald Trump says. One poll found that 62% of U.S. adults believe that the news they see in newspapers, on television or hear on the radio is biased and that 44% say it’s inaccurate.
An accompanying poll found that 39% of Americans believe that the news they see on television, read in newspapers or hear on the radio is misinformation, which is defined as “stories that are made up or cannot be verified as accurate but are presented to readers as if they are accurate.” Both polls, conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, sampled 1,400 Americans between February 5 and March 11.
According to one poll, “Republicans’ and Democrats’ ratings of the accuracy and bias of certain news organizations diverge sharply, most notably with respect to Fox News, Breitbart News, CNN and MSNBC. In rating various news organizations, Americans make little distinction between bias and accuracy. Generally, those that are perceived as biased are also perceived as inaccurate, and those that are perceived as unbiased are perceived as being accurate.”
Gallup has been polling the American people on their trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” since 1972, and on a yearly basis since 1997. Gallup found that Americans’ trust and confidence peaked in 1976, at 72%, in the wake of widely heralded examples of investigative journalism regarding the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. After staying in the low- to mid-50s through the late 1990s and into the early years of the 21st century, Americans’ trust in the media has fallen slowly and steadily.
Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history in 2016, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media — down eight percentage points from the year before. Last year, the first year of the Trump presidency, trust in the media rebounded to 37% – a view that was shared by only 14% of Republicans but by 62% of Democrats.
The two latest polls don’t actually measure how accurate or biased the media is, only the perceptions of those being surveyed. How biased or misinformed those views are was not measured. In other words, the polls say more about the American people than they do about the news media.
As many polls show, what people believe often does not comport with the facts. A 1999 Gallup poll found that 18% of Americans believed that the sun revolves around the Earth, while a 1997 Gallup poll found that 4% of Americans still believed that Elvis Presley was alive, 20 years after his death. Many of them, no doubt, also believe the news is fake.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 34% of Americans reject evolution entirely, saying that humans and every other animal on Earth today existed in their present forms since the beginning of time – meaning that dinosaurs and dachshunds once cohabitated the planet at the same time.
A 2001 Gallup poll found that 50% of Americans believed in ESP; that 41% believed that people are sometimes possessed by the devil, 38% believed in ghosts, 36% believed in telepathy, 33% believed that extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth, 32% believed in clairvoyance, 28% believed in astrology and that 26% believed there are witches among us.
And a 2016 Fairleigh Dickinson University poll found that 24% of Americans think that it’s “at least possible” that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was “faked in order to increase support for gun control.” No doubt, many of them also believe the news is fake. But believing it doesn’t make it true.
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