In U.S., views of diversity in news vary by party ID, race

Journalism / Article

A solid majority of Americans say it is important for the news media to reflect the diversity of the U.S. population, and even more think news organizations should hire with diversity in mind. Yet, they disagree as to what kind of diversity they would like to see, according to a survey of 20,000 U.S. adults conducted Nov. 8, 2019-Feb. 16, 2020. These findings, part of the Gallup/Knight Foundation research series on Trust, Media and Democracy, explore Americans’ views of diversity in newsrooms and news coverage and their desire for changes in both.

Overall, 69% of Americans say that reflecting the diversity of the U.S. population is a “critical” (35%) or “very important” (34%) role for the media. Black (50%), Hispanic (43%) and Asian people (41%) are more likely than white people (30%) to say the media’s role in reflecting diversity is “critical.” And while 48% of Democrats say the same, just 33% of independents and 22% of Republicans agree.

The survey was conducted prior to the current period of greater awareness of racial disparities and injustices following the killing of George Floyd, widespread protests seeking racial equity and justice in the U.S. and the national soul-searching that has followed in communities and newsrooms around the country.

Among those who say news organizations should hire for greater diversity, their highest priorities are to increase diversity based on race/ethnicity (35%) or political views (30%), followed by income or social class (18%), age (9%) and gender (5%).

The priorities Americans place on the kind of diversity they would most like to see differ greatly by race and political leaning. Racial minorities wanting increased diversity in newsrooms are more likely to place the priority on racial/ethnic diversity compared to whites. Six in 10 Blacks and more than four in 10 Hispanics and Asians most want to see increased racial diversity in news organizations, compared with just 27% of whites.

The partisan divide in these responses is also striking. About half of Republicans (51%) who want news organizations to increase their diversity say political diversity is most important, while 17% say racial/ethnic diversity matters the most. Conversely, about half (49%) of Democrats say racial/ethnic diversity matters to them the most, while 16% say political diversity is the greatest priority.

The public has a mixed reaction when it comes to how well the media are doing with diversity efforts. About a quarter of Americans (23%) think newsrooms are doing very well or well, while about four-in-ten (39%) think the media are doing poorly.

These views largely flow from Americans’ overall opinion of the media — those who have a positive image of the news media overall are more positive than negative about how well it reflects U.S. diversity, while those who view the media negatively are most negative on its reflection of the nation’s diversity.

All partisan, racial and ethnic subgroups are more likely to say the media is doing poorly rather than doing well reflecting U.S. diversity. A statistical model taking into account a variety of demographic and attitudinal factors finds that opinion of the news media overall is what drives ratings of how well it is doing reflecting diversity. Blacks and Democrats are somewhat less negative, but this is a function of those groups’ more positive opinions of the news media in general. Race and party do not have an independent effect.

Implications
At a moment of greater consciousness of the obstacles faced by Black Americans, some of the national narrative has focused on systematic and structural contributions to those obstacles. Newsrooms, too, are examining their coverage of race issues amid several departures and resignations of executives at such major news organizations as the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. The U.S. news industry has lagged behind the U.S. workforce overall when it comes to ethnic and racial diversity in the workforce, causing rank and file journalists to demand better of their leaders.

The findings in this survey, though collected before the events of spring of 2020, highlight the ways in which Americans agree on newsroom diversity (they say it’s needed). But the findings also allude to familiar cleavages, such as Republican claims that news organizations are biased. Given recent events, have concerns about ideological diversity in the media taken a back seat to the importance of racial and ethnic diversity? Further research is needed to answer that question.

And while this survey’s data shed some light on one dimension of diversity in journalism — the hiring of diverse talent — it raises other questions about another, perhaps even deeper issue that needs to be understood: the impact of diverse and equitable newsrooms on communities, particularly communities of color. Do underrepresented groups feel that the news media understands them and anticipates their unique information needs? Is sensitive to their concerns? Answers to these types of questions will matter because they display the real, day-to-day impact of staffing decisions in America’s news organizations.

Survey Methods
Results are based on self-administered mail surveys with a random sample of 20,046 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older. Gallup used a random, addressed-based sample of 137,000 U.S. households in all 50 states, purchased from Dynata. Gallup oversampled households known to include harder-to-reach respondents, specifically Blacks, Hispanics and young adults. 

Results are based on mail interviews collected between Nov. 8, 2019-Feb. 16, 2020.

Each sampled household was mailed an English and a Spanish version of the survey, along with a prepaid $1 cash incentive and a postage-paid return envelope. Within households, respondent selection was done using the “birthday method,” asking the household member with the next birthday to complete the questionnaire. Half of the households in the young adult oversample were instructed to have the youngest adult household member complete the survey. 

The computed response rate for valid surveys, excluding undeliverable packets, was 16%.

Gallup weighted the obtained sample to correct for unequal selection probability and nonresponse. Nonresponse adjustments were made by adjusting the sample to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region and population density. Demographic weighting targets were based on the 2019 Current Population Survey figures for the aged-18-and-older U.S. population. Population density targets were based on the 2010 census. For results based on this sample of U.S. adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error for subgroups are higher. 

All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting. 

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.