Other factors beyond partisan dynamics are linked with Americans’ assessments of the news media – though perhaps not as dramatically. Two additional areas stand out in this analysis: trust of others overall and demographic characteristics.
Americans who are more trusting of others overall extend that trust to the news media
High trusters – those with high levels of trust in others overall – are more likely than low trusters – those with lower levels of trust in others – to trust the information they get from national news organizations, think that journalists are ethical, have confidence in journalists to serve the public good, and feel loyal to their own sources of news. (For more information on the measures of personal trust, see the box below.)
For example, high trusters are 16 percentage points more likely to have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in journalists to act in the best interests of the public (63% vs. 47%, respectively). Similarly, high trusters are 14 points more likely than low trusters to say that journalists have very high or high ethical standards (51% vs. 37%). These findings are in line with previous Pew Research Center studies showing that high trusting individuals tend to be more supportive and confident in a range of institutions.
To capture a measure of trust in others, researchers built a scale based off three separate survey questions. These questions include:
- Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or most people can’t be trusted?
- Do you think most people would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance or would try to be fair no matter what?
- Would you say that most of the time people try to help others or just look out for themselves?
Peoples’ answers were organized into a spectrum of personal trust in the following way:
- High trusters comprise 22% of the population. They are those who gave the pro-trust response to each question. They say, “people can be trusted,” that people “would try to be fair no matter what” and that people “try to help others.”
- Medium trusters are those who gave mixed answers, with at least one trusting answer and one non-trusting answer to the three items. That comes to 41% of the public.
- Low trusters make up 35% of the populace and are those who gave non-trust answers to each question. They say, “people can’t be trusted,” that others “would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance” and that people “just look out for themselves.”
The three items were asked on a survey conducted between Nov. 27-Dec. 10, 2018. The findings in this section show the results comparing the “high trusters” and the “low trusters.” For a look at the findings that include the “medium trusters,” see the Appendix. For more information, see the following report: Trust and Distrust in America.
Americans’ level of personal trust has less connection with their view of the news media’s watchdog role or their likelihood to say news organizations are fair in their coverage of political and social issues, however.
Demographics and trust in the news media
The survey data used in this analysis highlights several interesting differences by race and ethnicity, age, educational attainment, urban-rural residency and religion. Below is a summary of some of the demographic findings. For more details, see the Appendix.
- Black Americans generally have higher support for and trust in the news media than Hispanic Americans and especially white Americans. For example, 57% of blacks say journalists have high or very high ethical standards compared with 49% of Hispanics and 41% of whites. Also, 41% of black adults say news organizations are fair to all sides when covering political and social issues, 10 points higher than Hispanics (31%) and 19 points higher than whites (22%).
- Older Americans tend to feel more connected to their preferred news sources than younger Americans. About half of those ages 65 and older (49%) feel loyal to their news sources, compared with about a quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds (27%), a difference of 22 percentage points. Those ages 30 to 49 and 50 to 64 fall somewhere in between (36% and 44%, respectively).
- U.S. adults with higher levels of education express greater trust in information from national news organizations than those with less education. For instance, those with a college degree or higher are somewhat more likely than those with a high school degree or less and those with some college to say they have a lot or some trust in the information they get from national news organizations. And they are about twice as likely to say they have a lot of trust (33% of those with at least a college degree, vs. 17% of those with some college and 15% of those with a high school degree or less).
- Rural residents tend to be more skeptical of news organizations and journalists than urban residents, with suburban residents typically falling somewhere in between. For example, about half of those who live in rural areas (48%) have a great deal or fair amount of confidence that journalists will act in the best interests of the public, 15 percentage points lower than those who live in urban areas (63%). Those in suburban areas are in the middle (55%).
- White evangelical Protestants tend to be less supportive of the news media than Protestants overall, Catholics and religiously unaffiliated Americans. For example, about a quarter of white evangelicals (26%) say journalists have high or very high ethical standards, between 13 and 26 percentage points lower than Protestants overall, Catholics and the unaffiliated.
Factors with limited association with trust in the news media
The overall goal of this study was to integrate a wide range of concepts to develop a comprehensive understanding of what factors connect to the public’s trust in the news media today. The analysis shows how partisanship – including party identification, approval of Trump and engagement with politics and the news – are strongly linked with Americans’ evaluations of the news media. Other factors such as trust in others and demographic characteristics are also connected, but not as dramatically.
Additional measures analyzed, however, had a more limited, inconsistent or no connection to the public’s trust in the news media. These include:
- Life cycle milestones, such as having children, owning a house and moving away from the community where you grew up.
- Life satisfaction, such as being happy with how things are going, having enough income to live comfortably now and having enough income to live the life you want in the future.
- Preferred pathways to get news, that is, whether they prefer the TV, radio, print newspapers, social media, or websites and apps for news.
- Some additional demographic variables such as sex.