Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) slammed the media during Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate for supporting liberal and Democratic views, and both were rewarded with thunderous applause. There’s a reason. According to a recently released Gallup poll, only 32 percent of Republicans have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the mass media.
Republicans are joined in their mistrust by independents, only 33 percent of whom trust the media a great deal or a fair amount. By comparison, 55 percent of Democrats indicate those levels of trust. Overall, the poll found that just 40 percent of respondents said they trusted the media, tying a record low previously seen in 2012 and 2014.
Gallup has asked the same question each year since 1997: “In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media -- such as newspapers, TV and radio -- when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly -- a great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?” In every poll, Republicans have showed the lowest levels of trust. While a majority of Democrats have always indicated trust in the media and a majority of independents did until 2004, the only time a majority of Republicans said the same was in 1998.
Rubio and Cruz took the mistrust a step further on Wednesday by claiming that the media actively supports liberal Democrats. Rubio referred to the mainstream media as “the Democrats’ super PAC.” The line clearly played well with the audience, and should play well among most Republicans.
The comments are an example of the “hostile media effect,” which refers to partisans thinking the media is biased against them. The evidence for this in the academic literature is mixed. One major study looked at presidential elections from 1948 to 1996 and found that newspapers and news magazines didn’t show any significant biases, though there were “small, measurable but probably insubstantial” biases in television network news.
The media environment has changed substantially since 1996, including the emergence of overtly partisan news networks, online blogs and media outlets. The question is not whether media is biased, but, rather, how much that bias affects voters.
As with the earlier research, though, the results are mixed. Some argue that partisan media has led to more polarization by making extreme viewers even more extreme. Others are less certain that the media is what causes polarization among its consumers.
Interestingly, some research indicates that conservative media is better at affecting consumers’ views than liberal media. Clearly, Rubio, Cruz and the 68 percent of Republicans who don’t trust mass media are not including those outlets in their critiques.
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