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Americans Unsatisfied with Media Coverage of Politics, Survey Finds

The vast majority of Americans report that they are unsatisfied with how the news media have covered politics.


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AUSTIN, Texas — As the 2016 election cycle draws to a close, the vast majority of Americans report that they are unsatisfied with how the news media have covered politics, according to researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.

Three-fourths of Americans believe the news media focus too much on scandals. They also believe that reporters should do more to hold politicians accountable. This is according to reports released today by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life  in the Moody College of Communication.

Two reports based on data from the Texas Media & Society Survey examine attitudes about journalism and media, politics and civic engagement. The reports summarize the results of two surveys – one with 1,009 Americans, the other with 1,006 Texans – conducted between May 24 and June 14.

The broad-ranging reports analyze how attitudes, beliefs and behaviors differ across gender, age, education and partisanship. The reports also examine media consumption and the political and civic habits of Americans and Texans in particular.

The key findings include public opinion about whether reporters should disclose personal viewpoints and affiliations. Only one-fourth of Americans and Texans believe that reporters should be able to include personal viewpoints in their reporting and less than one-third believe that journalists should disclose their partisanship and religious affiliation, even when related to their reporting.

“Over the past several decades, the news and information environment has undergone substantial change,” said Natalie Stroud, assistant director of research at the Annette Strauss Institute and associate professor of communication studies. “In our findings, there are reasons for both optimism and pessimism about the news media. Public concern about the news media’s role represents an important challenge. It is our hope that this report will spark discussions about the role of the news media in a democracy and how we can improve news coverage in the future.”

The reports also reveal high levels of distrust in political candidates and in state and federal government. The findings also show that about three-fourths of Texans say they are registered to vote but that there is confusion about the process of voting.

Additional findings include:

  • Six in 10 Americans, including Texans, believe journalists have a hard time removing their personal opinions from their reporting, and that news media should present facts without analysis.
  • More than one-third believe there is a liberal bias in the news media; 1 in 10 a conservative bias; and one-fourth believe there is no bias.
  • Seventy-two percent believe that news media should disclose when reporting on companies that own them.
  • Across eight categories of news, Texans and other Americans pay the most attention to weather and local news.
  • Television is the most common medium used for news; 61 percent of Texans and 53 percent of other Americans say that they often got news from television. 
  • Twenty-three percent of Americans outside of Texas follow a news organization on a social networking site; 30 percent of Texans do so.
  • Facebook is the most commonly used social networking site, with 69 percent of Texans and 62 percent of other Americans using it.
  • Forty-eight percent of Americans and 53 percent of Texans have not paid for access to news during the past year.
  • More than 80 percent of Texans and Americans believe that politicians will say whatever it takes to get elected.
  • Fifteen percent trust the government in Washington to do what is right all or most of the time; 45 percent of Americans and 42 percent of Texans hardly or never trust the federal government.
  • Twenty-nine percent of Texans trust the Texas government to do what is right all or most of the time; 26 percent hardly ever or never trust the Texas government.
  • About 6 in 10 Americans and Texans believe that voting in elections is extremely important for a person to be considered a “good” citizen.
  • Twenty-two percent of Texans incorrectly believe that they can register to vote on Election Day; only half of Texans report being aware that they can vote before Election Day by absentee ballot.

“For those who are committed to meaningful engagement between citizen and government through voting and other means, this survey confirms there is much work to be done,” said Susan Nold, director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. “The current cynicism and levels of distrust present a real challenge. The survey findings underscore the need for institutions like government and media to work to regain citizen trust and invite their participation.”