April 5, 2007

Who Do You Trust for War News?

The Public Now Puts Little Confidence in the Descriptions of Iraq Provided by Either the Military or the Press

by Michael Dimock, Associate Director, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

FigureFour years into the Iraq war, most Americans say they have little or no confidence in the information they receive – from either the military or the media – about how things are going on the ground. Fewer than half (46%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence that the U.S. military is giving the public an accurate picture of the situation, and even fewer (38%) are confident in the press’s portrayal of the war.

Public confidence in both institutions is much lower now than at the outset of the war. In March 2003 – in the first week of U.S. troop deployment in Iraq – fully 85% said they had at least a fair amount of confidence in military information, and nearly as many, 81%, were confident that the press was giving an accurate picture of the war. The public’s response to both military and press coverage of the first Gulf War in 1991 was similarly favorable.

On the negative side, 21% now say they have no confidence in military reports, while 27% have no confidence in press reports on the war. At the start of the war, virtually nobody expressed this view.

FigureOpinion about how these institutions portray the war has mirrored the public’s perception of how well the war is going overall. Fully 90% of the public said that the war effort was going “very well” or “fairly well” in the early days of the invasion compared with 40% who express this view today.

While Democrats, Republicans and independents all express less confidence in the information they are receiving about Iraq today, there is now a substantial partisan divide in how these two institutions are viewed. The vast majority of Republicans (73%) remain at least somewhat confident in the military’s portrayal of how the war is going, compared with just 32% of Democrats. At the outset of the war, the partisan gap was far less pronounced.

Conversely, Republican confidence in the accuracy of media reports on the war has declined more sharply. In March 2003, eight-in-ten Americans generally trusted press reports and opinions did not differ across party lines. Today, fewer than a third of Republicans (29%) feel confident in what they are hearing from the press, while about half of Democrats (51%) remain confident in the news from Iraq.

Independents have become skeptical of the information they are getting from both institutions. The share of independents who express at least a fair amount of confidence in military portrayals of the war is down from 83% to 39% since the start of the war, and their confidence in the accuracy of press reports has declined from 81% to 34%.