It’s no secret that political polarization plays a big role in determining which news outlets Americans tune into. But a new survey hints at something different, and more troubling: Republicans appear to be developing a mistrust of most news operations altogether. The MAGA “fake news” smears have metastasized into a deeper problem.
A recent survey of 1,500 Americans conducted by YouGov, a British internet-based analytics firm, documents how much — or how little — Americans trust scores of different media outlets. When broken down by partisan affiliation, at first blush the results seem predictable, with Democrats reporting much higher net trust than Republicans in many mainstream centrist or center-left media outlets, such as the Associated Press and PBS.
The picture that emerges from these poll results is that Republicans are extremely mistrustful of the media landscape as a whole.
But Vox’s Zack Beauchamp flagged something surprising in the poll: More Democrats than Republicans report trust in many conservative media outlets, including the Daily Caller, the New York Post and the Washington Examiner. For example, when it comes to National Review, a conservative journal founded by the famous conservative intellectual William F. Buckley Jr. in the 1950s, Democrats’ net trust in the magazine comes in at 20%, while Republicans’ is a mere 3%. The New York Post, an iconic right-wing tabloid, shows similar margins. (Net trust was calculated by the difference between the percentages of people who say an outlet is trustworthy or very trustworthy, and those who say it is untrustworthy or very untrustworthy. People who say they didn’t know or declined to assign trustworthiness were not included in the calculation.)
In fact, the survey found only a handful of media outlets that are trusted more by Republicans than Democrats, including Fox News, Newsmax, Breitbart News and One America News. Notably, out of all these outlets, Fox News is the only media outlet that a majority of Republicans trust; the rest of the outlets are only favored by a plurality. (By contrast, a large majority of Democrats trust many centrist and center-left outlets.)
The picture that emerges from these poll results is that Republicans are extremely mistrustful of the media landscape as a whole. It’s not surprising that they mistrust center-left or progressive outlets like The Guardian or MSNBC. But the they don’t even have trust in a number of famous right-wing outlets, perhaps in part because publications like National Review and the New York Post have been critical of former President Donald Trump, or perhaps because todays Republicans are generally suspicious of old guard, “establishment” right-wing journalism. It appears that Republicans seem to only trust overtly propagandistic right-wing outlets that follow not only the party line, but specifically Trumpism.
One caveat on Republicans mistrusting several conservative outlets is that some poll respondents may have been rating levels of trust in some media outlets they didn’t know well; they may have misjudged affiliations, or made guesses based on only the faintest familiarity with a brand name. But it’s likely that some Democrats were also making mistakes or rating trust in outlets based on only the vaguest impressions as well. It’s possible that they didn’t realize how right-wing the Daily Caller is, for example.
Even factoring this possibility in, the findings are worrying. The results show that there was far more willingness among Democrats to say that a good number of possibly disagreeable outlets deserve some trust, while the default Republican outlook was to do the opposite. After years and years of propaganda from Trump and the MAGA activist scene, the right displays an intensifying reflexive skepticism toward any media outlet that doesn’t entirely reflect their vision of reality back to them. Even more worrisome is that this trend will create a feedback loop that will make the problem only get worse over time.