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Distrust of Washington and News Media Grows Since 2016 Election

More Americans not only distrust the federal government, but also distrust the news media since the 2016 election. 

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AUSTIN, Texas — More Americans not only distrust the federal government, but also distrust the news media since the 2016 election. Those are some of the findings in a new study from researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, which showed that 49 percent of Americans believe Washington will do what is right “hardly ever or never,” compared with 45 percent one year ago.

Additionally, the percentage of Americans who check the accuracy of news “all or most of the time” has increased to 38 percent from 24 percent a year ago, and the percentage of Americans who perceived a liberal bias in the news media has increased to 42 percent from 35 percent.

The Texas Media and Society Survey, conducted by researchers at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life in the Moody College of Communication, sampled more than 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Texans. The survey was first conducted in June 2016 and again in June 2017.

Researchers found that despite an increased perception of bias, the public believes the news media are doing a better job of holding elected officials accountable. Sixty-seven percent of Americans agreed that the news media “need to do more to hold political candidates or elected officials accountable,” compared with 74 percent one year ago.

“Our democratic system strives for informed and engaged citizens who have traditionally been willing to defer to the press as a trusted mediator,” said Susan Nold, director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. “These results reveal public attitudes and beliefs toward the news media and government that are far from ideal. However, there are bright spots, including an increase in individuals taking action and responsibility in some areas, including increased fact-checking of news.”

Other key findings from the 2017 survey:

  • Democrats’ perceptions of liberal bias in news media increased to 23 percent (from 14 percent in 2016).
  • Distrust of the federal government also increased among Texans to 46 percent (from 42 percent in 2016).
  • Distrust of state government decreased to 36 percent from 39 percent the previous year.
  • Among Texans, distrust in their state government increased to 31 percent (from 26 percent in 2016).
  • Eighty-three percent of Americans and 84 percent of Texans regularly encounter news stories about politics and government online that they believe to be “not fully accurate.”
  • Sixty-nine percent of Americans and 70 percent of Texans encounter news about politics and government online that they believe are “almost completely made up.”
  • Among Texans, 65 percent agreed that the news media “need to do more to hold political candidates or elected officials accountable” (down from 78 percent in 2016).
  • Fifty-four percent of Americans who regularly watch Fox News and 82 percent who regularly listen to Rush Limbaugh network perceive a strong liberal bias in news media.
  • By contrast, between 15 and 37 percent who receive news from other news outlets perceive a strong liberal bias in news media.

The Texas Media and Society Survey seeks to capture the voices of Texans and Americans on the media, civic engagement and politics over time. Launched in 2015 as an endeavor of the Moody College of Communication, the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and the School of Journalism, the annual survey reveals the attitudes of Texans and other Americans on media and politics, measures habits of news consumption and offers insight into how people become informed in the Digital Age.

The survey is made possible by the Cain Foundation, the Denius Chair for News Integrity, the Moody Endowment for Excellence in Communication and the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life.