Survey: Slim majority trust media, hiding huge partisan gap

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February 7, 2022
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Survey: Slim majority trust media, hiding huge partisan gap

A slim majority of Americans trust the media to accurately report on top issues of the day, but that fact hides a deep divide between Democrats and Republicans, according to a new survey by Boston University’s College of Communication.

When it comes to climate change, vaccines, and elections, about 3 of 5 Americans, or 60%, trust the media to provide accurate information to varying degrees. The percentage jumps to about 80%, however, for Democrats and drops to just more than a third (34-37%) for Republicans. 

The partisan gap on media trust is almost as stark on other issues, such as on vaping (81% Democrats, 54% Republicans) or making a distinction between advertising and news (70%, 39%).

“There is a strong baseline level of polarization in terms of who trusts the media, with Democrats generally trusting the press and Republicans generally not,” says Chris Wells, associate professor of emerging media studies at Boston University’s College of Communication. “What is interesting here is that we can see that the polarization is especially strong on issues that citizens have gotten strong partisan signals about, like climate change and vaccines. It’s not quite as extreme on issues like vaping, which does not have a partisan orientation, at least not yet.”

The survey suggests that Democrats move a bit closer to Republicans when it comes to trusting the media to make a distinction between news and advertising.

“No one likes to be deceived, but given the widespread adoption by newsrooms of paid content that looks like news articles, it is not surprising that nearly half of Americans, overall, distrust the media to make a clear distinction between news and advertising,” says Michelle Amazeen, associate professor at Boston University’s College of Communication and a designer of the survey. “This is especially concerning when corporations that sell products with significant scientific consequences – such as fossil fuels, opioid medications and cigarettes – are investing in this type of content increasingly to whitewash negative news coverage.” 

Related Research:

News Media Use, Talk Networks, and Anti-Elitism across Geographic Location: Evidence from Wisconsin, International Journal of Press/Politics, January 17, 2021. Authors: Chris Wells, Lewis A. Friedland, Ceri Hughes, Dhavan V. Shah, Jiyoun Suk, Michael W. Wagner.

When We Stop Talking Politics: The Maintenance and Closing of Conversation in Contentious Times, Journal of Communication, February 7, 2017. Authors: Chris Wells, Katherine J. Cramer, Michael W. Wagner, German Alvarez, Lewis A. Friedland, Dhavan V. Shah, Leticia Bode, Stephanie Edgerly, Itay Gabay, Charles Franklin.

Native Advertising in a Mobile Era: Effects of Ability and Motivation on Recognition in Digital News Contexts, Digital Journalism, January 2021. Author: Michelle Amazeen.

Agenda-Cutting Versus Agenda-Building: Does Sponsored Content Influence Corporate News Coverage in U.S. Media?, International Journal of Communication, 2021. Authors: Christopher Joseph Vargo, Michelle A. Amazeen.

Survey Details:

Survey respondents were asked how much they trust the media when it comes to accurately reporting on four topics – climate change, vaccines, vaping and elections – as well as making a clear distinction between advertising and news. They were offered six options to answer along a scale, from “trust a great deal” on one end to “distrust a great deal” on the other:

Accurately reporting on climate change information:

  • Trust a great deal: 11%
  • Trust somewhat: 26%
  • Trust slightly: 22%
  • Distrust slightly: 15%
  • Distrust somewhat: 9%
  • Distrust a great deal: 16%
  • Trust, combined 60% / Distrust, combined 40%
  • Trust, combined: Democrats: 82% / Republicans: 37% / Independents: 52%

Accurately reporting on vaccine-related information:

  • Trust a great deal: 14%
  • Trust somewhat: 23%
  • Trust slightly: 20%
  • Distrust slightly: 13%
  • Distrust somewhat: 11%
  • Distrust a great deal: 20%
  • Trust, combined: 57% / Distrust, combined: 43%
  • Trust, combined: Democrats: 81% / Republicans: 36% / Independents: 45%

Accurately reporting on vaping-related information: 

  • Trust a great deal: 10%
  • Trust somewhat: 29%
  • Trust slightly: 27%
  • Distrust slightly: 15%
  • Distrust somewhat: 8%
  • Distrust a great deal: 11%
  • Trust, combined: 66% / Distrust, combined: 34%
  • Trust, combined: Democrats: 81% / Republicans: 54% / Independents: 55%

Accurately reporting on election-related information: 

  • Trust a great deal: 6%
  • Trust somewhat: 30%
  • Trust slightly: 22%
  • Distrust slightly: 14%
  • Distrust somewhat: 12%
  • Distrust a great deal: 16%
  • Trust, combined: 56% / Distrust, combined: 44%
  • Trust, combined: Democrats: 80% / Republicans: 34% / Independents: 48%

Making a clear distinction between advertising and news: 

  • Trust a great deal: 7%
  • Trust somewhat: 22%
  • Trust slightly: 26%
  • Distrust slightly: 17%
  • Distrust somewhat: 10%
  • Distrust a great deal: 18%
  • Trust, combined: 55% / Distrust, combined: 45%
  • Trust, combined: Democrats: 70% / Republicans: 39% / Independents: 48%

The survey is an ongoing project of the Communication Research Center (CRC) at Boston University’s College of Communication, in partnership with Ipsos, the market research company. This month’s poll was conducted in English on January 31, 2022, using Ipsos eNation Omnibus, a nationally representative online survey that measures attitudes and opinions of 1,000 adults across the United States. This online survey has a credibility interval (CI) of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The data were weighted to the U.S. population data by region, gender, age, and education. Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error.


Burt Glass,, 617-358-0460