Do the public trust the news: The views from Italy and the USA

March 16, 2020
News & Media

In our recent polls in the United States and Italy, we took the opportunity to ask respondents about their consumption of the news. In particular, we asked respondents whether they generally trusted the news they consumed and also how often they consumed the news, if at all.

In general, do you trust and have confidence in the press and the media when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly?

Most notably, 3 in 5 of past Trump voters distrusted the news compared to 1 in 5 of those who voted in 2016 for Hillary Clinton. In Italy, a majority of those who voted for Five Star Movement or the League in 2018 were also distrustful of the news. These results highlight a partisan tinge to trust in the media.

It may be that there are those who already distrusted the news and then went on to support candidates and parties who lambasted the bias of the news. And it may be that there are those who liked certain candidates and parties who became increasingly distrustful of the news due to their criticisms of the media. In turn, both dynamics reinforce each other.

Altogether, a small majority of Italian respondents and a plurality of American respondents distrusted the news, generally not having confidence in the accuracy of what was being reported to them. This finding is confounding when one considers how often respondents reported consuming the news.  

How often, if at all, do you consume the news?

A third of those in the United States who consume the news ‘hourly’ reported distrusting the news. 43% of Italians who check the news on an hourly basis also distrust the news. For these respondents, it may be that their frequent consumption of the news actually informs their distrust it, and they therefore follow the news, however frequently, with a significant degree of scepticism.

Nevertheless, frequent news consumers were also the most trusting compared to other groups. For this group of respondents, it could be that they trust the news and are more likely to consume it frequently or that their frequent consumption of the news encourages their trust. More likely, both appear to be the case in a self-reinforcing cycle.

What we can say is that frequent news consumers were also found to be far more opinionated than those who consume the news less often. In the United States, those who consumed the news hourly were more likely to either strongly agree or strongly disagree with a statement suggesting that the US was ready to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Few of this group selected ‘neither agree nor disagree’ or ‘don’t know.’

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The United States is ready to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and prevent it from becoming serious

Yet they were also generally more likely to be worried about the coronavirus outbreak, either because they may have been following its development more closely or because those that are worried are now more likely to follow the news more frequently.

On a scale of 1 to 5, how concerned are you about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and its impact on the public’s health?

They are more likely to blame the media for having made people complacent, and at the same time, they were the least likely group to blame the media for having exaggerated the threat.

Thinking about the media’s coverage of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which of the following statements is closest to your view?

What role the media plays in shaping people’s opinions cannot be quite gleaned from these results. It could be the reverse order: those with strong opinions, even pre-existing ones, are more likely to check in with the news more often.

Regardless, what we see in both countries is a high degree of distrust in the media, particularly by those who support certain candidates and political parties. Yet, at the same time, we also see a high amount of consumption of the media and a higher concentration of opinionated respondents among those who frequently consume the news. At a time when countries across the world face a serious crisis and citizens everywhere need to come together in order to take serious action, this dynamic does not appear to be healthy.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.