Studies have found that trust in the media is not only extremely low, but falling. A new report from the American Press Institute, however, suggests that the answer to surveys about trust and the media can change a lot depending on how the questions are phrased.
The study was done as part of the Media Insight Project, which is a collaborative effort between the API and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It appears to show that public attitudes about the media are “more complex and nuanced than many traditional studies indicate,” according to a release from the Institute.
In particular, people’s answers changed depending on whether the question was about their perception of the media in general or the media that they used most often—which in most cases consisted of fairly mainstream media outlets.
So when people were asked whether the media in general were normally “very accurate,” only 17% said that they agreed with the statement. But when respondents were asked about the media sources that they rely on the most, twice as many—34%—said they believed they were very accurate.
In a similar way, only 22% of people said that the news media in general cares about the people it reports on. But more than 35% of those surveyed said that the outlets they rely on care.
Interestingly enough, the study showed that divisions between Republican voters and Democratic voters when it comes to trust in the media virtually disappear in some cases when the question refers to media sources that the user relies on most.
So while only 8% of Republicans said that the news media in general was “very accurate,” 40% of Republican voters said the media sources they use most were accurate, roughly the same as the number of Democrats who agreed with that statement.
Many recent studies have highlighted an ideological divide when it comes to trust in the media. A report from PR strategy firm Edelman called The Trust Barometer, for example, found that only 15% of Trump voters said they trusted the media to do what was right, compared with 51% of Clinton voters who agreed with the same statement.
According to the American Press Institute, the findings from its study suggest that the issue of trust in the media “is more complicated than some may think.”
In particular, the API says the research shows that the idea of Americans somehow retreating from news in general, or being separated into their ideological corners “oversimplifies what is occurring.” However, the Institute did note that trust in the media among those under 40 does appear to be declining, regardless of ideology.