Most Americans place at least some trust in the media outlet they turn to most frequently for political news. But their trust varies widely by political party and whether they see the outlet in question as part of the “mainstream media” or not – though in very different ways between Republicans and Democrats.

About four-in-ten Americans have a great deal of trust in their main news source, more so among Democrats

Overall, roughly eight-in-ten U.S. adults (83%) have at least some trust in the accuracy of the political news they get from their main news source, with 38% expressing a “great deal” of trust in it, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted March 8-14, 2021. Americans tend to have more trust in their main source for political news than they do in the news media more broadly: About two-in-ten adults (18%) express a great deal of trust in the accuracy of the political news they get from national news organizations (though a majority – 64% – have at least some trust).

To examine Americans’ trust in their main source of political news, 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. Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its 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.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are particularly trusting of their main political news source. Nine-in-ten Democrats say they have at least some trust, including 47% who have a great deal. Most Republicans and Republican leaners (77%) also say they have at least some trust in their main political news source, but three-in-ten express the highest level of trust. This divide aligns with previous Center findings showing that Republicans tend to express more negative sentiments of journalists and the news media overall.

One notable factor when it comes to the trust Americans place in their main political news source is whether they say it is a part of the mainstream media or not.

Republicans who say their main news source is ‘mainstream’ have less trust in it; the opposite is true for Democrats

When asked to name their main source for political news, about two-thirds of Americans (66%) say that source is part of the mainstream media, including 53% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats. About two-in-ten adults (22%) say their main source is not mainstream, and 11% did not provide an answer when asked to name their main source. (See here for previous Center findings on which outlets the public sees as “mainstream.”) But while being part of the mainstream media seems to be a plus for Democrats, it appears to be a drawback for Republicans.

Republicans who say their main political news source is part of the mainstream media are far less likely to have a great deal of trust in it than those who say it is not part of the mainstream (24% vs. 46%). Among Democrats, by contrast, those who see their main source as part of the mainstream are more likely than those who don’t to have a great deal of trust in it (53% vs. 34%).

What’s more, this relationship occurs even among those who rely on the same source. For instance, among Republicans who say their main political news source is Fox News, those who say the cable network is not mainstream are far more likely to have a great deal of trust in it than those who say it is mainstream (55% vs. 32%). (A large majority of Democrats say their main source is mainstream, so there was not a large enough sample to conduct this analysis for any individual source among Democrats.)

Younger adults, Hispanics and those without a college degree are less likely to have a great deal of trust in their main news source

Demographic differences also emerge in whether Americans trust their main political news source, particularly when it comes to age, race and ethnicity, and education. While large majorities of all demographic groups have at least some trust in the accuracy of the political news they get from their main source, notable differences appear in whether they have the highest level of trust.

For instance, while a quarter of those ages 18 to 29 have a great deal of trust in their main political news source, this jumps to 52% among those 65 and older. (Those ages 30 to 49 and 50 to 64 fall somewhere in between.)

Hispanic Americans are much less likely than White, Black and Asian Americans to express the highest level of trust in their main news source. And those without a college degree are also less likely to have a great deal of trust than those who have completed college.

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.