As America grapples with a historic crisis under the leadership of a Republican president who frequently derides the media as “fake news,” new Morning Consult trend data finds Americans’ views of the fourth estate’s credibility have hit a new low during the Trump administration, largely driven by declines among Republicans.
The share of U.S. adults who said nine leading media outlets — including CBS and The New York Times — were credible has dropped roughly 9 percentage points since December 2016, from 60.6 percent to an average of 51.2 percent today. Last year, the average credibility rating sat at 55.4 percent.
As was seen in last year’s analysis, Republicans are driving this drop.
In the past four years, members of the “Grand Old Party” have become on average 16 points less likely to view the surveyed media outlets as credible: In 2016, a majority (56 percent) of the group said outlets such as NBC and National Public Radio were credible, while 40 percent said the same in the latest survey, fielded April 16-18 in partnership with The Hollywood Reporter.
Among Republicans, perceptions of four media outlets have fallen more than 20 points since the last presidential election. In December 2016, at least roughly half of Republicans thought The Wall Street Journal (64 percent), The New York Times (52 percent), CNN (51 percent) and MSNBC (48 percent) were credible. Four years later, those figures now stand at 41 percent for The Journal, 29 percent for the Times and 27 percent for both CNN and MSNBC.
Fox News is the only media entity to remain relatively unscathed, though the share of GOP adults who find it credible has slipped 6 points since 2016. Two-thirds of Republicans say the “Fair and Balanced” outlet is credible, a figure that’s more than 20 points higher than the next outlet’s credibility rating among Republicans (CBS, at 46 percent).
For Democrats, Fox News was the only outlet that experienced a double-digit drop between 2016 and 2020, falling from 45 percent to 33 percent. But Democrats’ perception of the credibility of each media organization listed in the survey has also dipped throughout President Donald Trump’s presidency.
The poll comes at a particularly sensitive time for news information, as residents across the country seek out accurate reports on the coronavirus pandemic. Recent polling shows a country divided over the job that news media is doing: Fifty-five percent of respondents in a March 13-22 Gallup survey disapproved of the news media’s handling of the coronavirus in the United States, while a Pew survey, fielded March 19-24, reported that 54 percent of the public said the news media is doing a “good” or “excellent” job responding to the outbreak.
Attitudes vary by outlet. Registered voters are about as likely to say that cable news giants Fox News, MSNBC and CNN are doing a “poor” job handling the coronavirus as they are to say they’re doing an “excellent” or “good” job, according to an April 18-19 Morning Consult/Politico survey. More than half of Democrats say CNN is doing at least a good job, while most Republicans say the same of Fox News.
A separate Pew report from April 1 showed that differences in Americans’ perceptions of the outbreak correlated with what they identified as their main news source.
The latest Morning Consult survey results suggest stronger political divisions in perceptions of the country’s news brands. An October 2019 Morning Consult analysis of more than 3,700 brands revealed that 12 of the 15 most divisive brands were media outlets, and that the partisan divisions had become stronger between 2018 and 2019.