Gallup/Knight Poll: Americans’ concerns about media bias deepen, even as they see it as vital for democracy

WASHINGTON – (Aug. 4, 2020) – A new report from Gallup and Knight Foundation finds a widening gap between what Americans expect from the news media and what they think they are getting. While Americans increasingly value the media’s role in our democracy, they are losing confidence in the idea of an objective media as perceptions of bias grow. 

The findings were released today in “American Views 2020: Trust, Media and Democracy,” a landmark survey of 20,000 Americans that is part of the Gallup/Knight series on the evolution of Americans’ relationship with the news. The report is available at kf.org/usviews20.

The report’s major findings include the following:

  • Americans think the media is vital for democracy. The vast majority of Americans (84%) say that the news media is “critical” (49%) or “very important” (35%) to provide accurate information and hold the powerful accountable.

  • Half (49%) of all Americans think the media is very biased. Fifty-six percent say their own news sources are biased, and seven in 10 are concerned about bias in the news others are getting. Eight percent — driven largely by conservatives — say distrusted media are trying to ruin the country.
  • Americans think the media is pushing an agenda. Three in four people (74%) worry that owners of media companies are influencing coverage, up five points since 2017. They also suspect that inaccuracies in reporting are purposeful, with 54% believing that reporters misrepresent the facts, and 28% believing reporters make them up entirely.
  • Distrust of the media cuts along partisan lines. Seventy-five percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of the media, and 61% say attacks on the media are justified. But only 22% of Democrats have an unfavorable view, and 70% say that attacks are not justified. 

The new report builds on Knight’s 2018 American Views survey, which found that party affiliation is the key predictor for how Americans view the media. The results of the 2020 survey suggest further partisan entrenchment in media attitudes. While pessimism about the media has deepened across the board over the past two years, it is most pronounced among Republicans. 

“Most Americans have lost confidence in the media to deliver the news objectively,” said Sam Gill, Knight’s senior vice president and chief program officer. “This is corrosive for our democracy.”

The survey, conducted over the winter, sheds light on a range of trends in Americans’ attitudes toward the media. As the report states, low levels of public trust in the media have “left open the possibility for dangerous false narratives to take root in all segments of society.” 

Additional findings from the poll include: 

  • Americans are overwhelmed by the speed and volume of information, and the Internet is making it worse. Three in four  (72%) Americans think the leading cause of information overload is the mix of news and non-news online, including on social media. Nearly eight in 10 (78%) think misinformation online is the leading problem with news today.
  • Americans want more newsroom diversity, but they differ on what kind of diversity is needed. Democrats (49%) and blacks (60%) prioritize racial/ethnic diversity in hiring, while Republicans (51%) and whites (35%) prioritize ideological diversity in journalists’ political views.
  • Americans blame the media for political divisions, but they also see the potential for the media to heal these divides. Eighty-four percent of Americans say the media is to blame for political division in this country. Still, 84% also say the media can serve as a healing force. 
  • Local news plays a key role in civic engagement. People who read and watch local news are more likely to take part in important community issues, like voting. Those who follow local news “very closely” are more than twice as likely than those who do not to participate in local elections—81% versus 35%, respectively. 


The findings will be discussed at two upcoming virtual events in partnership with the Paley Center. The first taking place at 2 p.m. on Aug. 6. To register, visit paley.me/knight.

The survey is part of Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy research series, which aims to address the decline in trust for journalism and other democratic institutions by examining the causes and supporting solutions.

For interviews with experts from Knight Foundation to discuss the new report and its findings, please contact Tony Franquiz at [email protected] or 202-374-5393.

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.

About Gallup
Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world. For more, visit: gallup.com


Photo (top) by Laura Lee Moreau on Unsplash