Public Policy Polling has just released its 3rd Annual TV News Trust Poll, and while the poll found PBS to be the outlet that the most people trust (for the second year in a row), Fox News was the outlet that more people said they trusted most. Asked which single out let they trust least, though, respondents overwhelmingly selected…Fox News. Well, I’m glad we settled that.
Fox is the most trusted TV news source for 34% of voters, followed by PBS at 17%, CNN at 12%, ABC News at 11%, CBS News at 8%, MSNBC at 5%, and Comedy Central and NBC each at 4%.
68% of Republicans pick Fox as their most trusted source, with no one else even hitting double digits. Democrats split closely three ways with PBS at 21%, ABC News at 19%, and CNN at 17%. Despite having a reputation for appealing to the left, MSNBC actually polls in only 6th place among Democrats at 8%, finishing slightly behind even Fox News’ 9%. Independents split almost evenly between Fox News (29%) and PBS (27%).
Fox is also the least trusted TV news source for 34% of voters, followed by Comedy Central at 16%, MSNBC at 15%, CNN at 11%, ABC News at 7%, CBS News at 5%, PBS at 2%, and NBC News at 1%.
That contradictory Fox News result is the sizzle in this survey’s steak, superficially supporting PPP’s conclusion that, “tv news has become just as polarizing as the political parties in this country,” but in my view, it’s more a function of Fox’s appeal to an underserved audience, versus the fragmentation of the non-conservative audience. Fox News’ ratings are so dominant in cable news that people often forget that the Big Three network newscasts dwarf Fox (and by extension, every other cable net) in viewership. When it comes to political ideology, conservatives only have one nucleus to condense around, while everyone else scatters to the four winds.
The poll results bear that out. 73% of self-identified Republicans said they trusted Fox News, while the next highest total with Republicans was PBS, at 26%. Democrats and independents, meanwhile, fragmented the networks they trusted, but Fox News was the only network these groups distrusted.
Polarization is the hot topic in TV news, and in the broader media, but the most telling thing about this poll, to me, is the so-called “independent” results. These results are significant because this group decides every election.
Their trust/distrust ratios were predictably, uniformly lukewarm, with one exception: 66% of them said they trusted PBS, versus only 15% who said they didn’t. With 24% of respondents identifying as independents, that means PBS ought to be pulling huge ratings. What that tells me is that the only news source these people trust is the one they never watch.
This reinforces the idea that these people, who decide every election, are either not paying attention, or just don’t care all that much. You might disagree with liberals or conservatives, but at least they’re engaged. Those 24% independents are often cast, by the media, as these discerning wine-tasters of democracy, but in reality, they’re (largely) disengaged boobs who vote based on who they’d have a beer with, or other such nonsense.
Don’t believe me? There was a survey that garnered a lot of attention a few weeks ago by naming Republicans’ and Democrats’ favorite TV shows. The popular news hook on that was the entertainment shows, but little attention was paid to the news results. Among Republicans and Democrats, the results were fairly predictable (Democrats like Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow, Republicans went for Sean Hannity and Bret Baier), but among independents, the top three programs weren’t really even news shows (Dateline, 48 Hours Mystery, and The Today Show), and seven of the top ten were soft, fluffy news junk-food.
There’s nothing wrong with watching Dateline, or 48 Hours Mystery, but if those are your favorite news shows, you’re probably not up-to-the-minute informed. The only cable news show to crack the independents’ top ten wasn’t even a show, it was “HLN.” This translates to “checking HLN during the Maury Povich commercial breaks.”
Media types often bemoan the polarization of modern politics, but I would much prefer an electorate that pays enough attention to know what they believe in, and which way to vote to get it. In a contest of ideas, I’m sure either side would agree, and say “I like our chances.”
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