Young adults show strong interest in news media, but express concern about the impact of news on democracy and unity in the country, study reveals

MIAMI — July 9, 2019 — A new report released today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation reveals that a majority of young adults are concerned about the impact of news on democracy and unity in the country, expressing that news organizations might divide and polarize citizens.

Conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, the report analyzes the findings of a survey of 1,660 adults between the ages of 18 and 34. It also surveyed large samples of African American and Hispanic participants to explore beliefs and behaviors across races and ethnicities. 

The study shows that young people believe some news sources are actively hurting democracy and corroding national unitySixty-four percent of young adults say their least-liked news source hurts democracy and 73 percent say their least-liked news source divides the country. Only 47 percent say their favorite news source helps unite it. When comparing partisan attitudes, 51 percent of Democrats say their favorite source unites the public, while 42 percent of Republicans say the same. 

“The study suggests that young people’s confidence in the media is waning, with a majority saying that some news organizations pose a direct threat to our democracy. This erosion of trust has important implications for the way young people will seek and receive information in the future,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact.

Study findings are underscored by the frequency at which young people consume news, with 88 percent of young adults accessing it at least weekly, including 53 percent who do so every day. Other key findings from the report include:

  • Many young adults believe that news sources, even their favorite, have a liberal or conservative ideological slant: Overall, about 45 percent of young adults say their most-liked news source is neither liberal nor conservative whereas 42 percent say it is liberal and 13 percent say it is conservative. They are much more likely to see their least-liked source as holding a conservative slant. Only 23 percent feel their least-liked source is neutral.
  • Young adults largely believe that their race or ethnicity is not covered regularly in the media: Overall, 31 percent of young adults say that people of their race, or issues that affect people of their race, are rarely covered in their most-liked news sources. Forty-seven percent say the same thing about their least-liked news sources. Hispanics and African Americans are especially likely to say both their most- and least-liked source fail to regularly cover issues that affect them.
  • The majority of African American and Hispanic participants do not feel like media sources accurately or fairly portray their groups, when they do get coverage: Only 45 percent of African Americans and 40 percent of Hispanics say their most-liked source very accurately portrays them. Around 6 in 10 in both groups say their least-liked source portrays them slightly or not at all accurately. 
  • A majority of young adults rely on news to make decisions, particularly young African American people: More than 60 percent of young adults use their favorite news source to decide which policies to support, and more than 50 percent do the same when deciding who should have their votes. Young African Americans are twice as likely to do this as young white Americans.
  • Young adults who are highly partisan rely on news to make decisions: 41 percent of young adults who identify strongly with a political party will use their favorite news source to make decisions about candidates, and 49 percent of these young adults will do the same when making decisions about policies to support.
  • Political affiliation has a big effect on perceptions of a news organization’s ideological slant: Democrats are especially likely to perceive an ideological slant to their most- and least-liked/favorite sources. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats see their favorite news source as liberal, while 36 percent of Republicans perceive their favorite news source as very or somewhat conservative. Also, more Democrats say their least-liked source is very conservative than Republicans say their least-liked source is very liberal (75 percent vs. 68 percent).
  • A majority of young adults share news regularly with their friends, family and social networks. Fifty-six percent of young adults share news stories at least weekly, with around 1 in 5 sharing news every day. Though young adults often share news they find interesting, helpful or entertaining, the survey found that many have concerns with the ideological and political leanings of news sources.
  • As young adults question the media’s coverage of race, many get news from ethnic media sources: 58 percent of African American and 52 percent of Hispanic young adults use ethnic media sources at least once per week. Seventy-five percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of African American young adults who say they regularly experience racial discrimination are more likely to use sources that provide news specific to their race or ethnicity.

To read the full report, visit kf.org/newsviewsreport.

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.

Contact: Roshni Neslage, Communications Officer, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2623, [email protected]


Image (top): this is a derivative of a photo by MoteOo on Pixabay and using the Pixabay License. Image effects added by Knight Foundation.