Americans are now more likely to say the media are growing than declining in influence

Americans’ views about the influence of the media in the country have shifted dramatically over the course of a year in which there was much discussion about the news media’s role during the election and post-election coverage, the COVID-19 pandemic and protests about racial justice. More Americans now say that news organizations are gaining influence than say their influence is waning, a stark contrast to just one year ago when the reverse was true.

When Americans were asked to evaluate the media’s standing in the nation, about four-in-ten (41%) say news organizations are growing in their influence, somewhat higher than the one-third (33%) who say their influence is declining, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted March 8-14, 2021. The remaining one-quarter of U.S. adults say they are neither growing nor declining in influence.

To examine Americans’ views about the influence of the news media, Pew Research Center surveyed 12,045 U.S. adults from March 8 to 14, 2021. Everyone who completed the survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology. See here to read more about the questions used for this analysis and the methodology.

This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

By comparison, Americans in early 2020 were far more likely to say the news media were declining in influence. Nearly half (48%) at that time said this, compared with far fewer (32%) who said news organizations were growing in influence.

The 2021 figures more closely resemble responses from 2011 – the next most recent time this was asked – and before, in that more Americans then said the news media were growing in influence than declining. Views could have shifted in the gap between 2011 and 2020, but if so, they have now shifted back. (It should be noted that prior to 2020, this question was asked on the phone instead of on the web.)

What’s more, this shift in views of the media’s influence in the country occurred among members of both political parties – and in the same direction.

Both Democrats and Republicans are more likely than last year to think the media are growing in influence

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are about evenly split in whether they think news organizations are growing (40%) or declining in influence (41%). This is very different from a year ago, when Republicans were twice as likely to say their influence was declining than growing (56% vs. 28%).

And Democrats and Democratic leaners are now much more likely to say news organizations are growing (43%) than declining in influence (28%), while a year ago they were slightly more likely to say influence was declining (42% vs. 36% growing).

Overall, then, Republicans are still more likely than Democrats to say the news media are losing standing in the country, though the two groups are more on par in thinking that the media are increasing in their influence. (Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to say news organizations are neither growing nor declining in influence – 29% vs. 19%.)  

Americans who trust national news organizations are more likely to think news media influence is growing

Trust in media closely ties to whether its influence is seen as growing or declining. Those who have greater trust in national news organizations tend to be more likely to see the news media gaining influence, while those with low levels of trust are generally more likely to see it waning.

Americans who say they have a great deal of trust in the accuracy of political news from national news organizations are twice as likely to say the news media are growing than declining in influence (48% vs. 24%, respectively). Conversely, those who have no trust at all are much more likely to think that news organizations are declining (47% vs. 33% who say they are growing).

Most demographic groups more likely to say the news media growing than declining in influence

Black Americans are far more likely to think that the news media are growing in influence rather than declining (48% vs. 19%, respectively), as are Hispanic Americans though to a somewhat lesser degree. White Americans, on the other hand, are about evenly split in thinking the news media are growing or declining in influence (39% vs. 37%, respectively). And while men are about evenly split (39% growing vs. 38% declining), women are more likely to say news organizations are growing (43%) than declining (29%) in influence.

Note: Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.

Jeffrey Gottfried  is a senior researcher focusing on journalism research at Pew Research Center.
Naomi Forman-Katz  is a research assistant focusing on journalism and media at Pew Research Center.