No participant in the 2016 presidential election fares well in the Pew Research Center’s post-election voter survey: the candidates, the parties, and the electorate itself all receive historically poor marks from respondents. But the most despised institution of them all is the news media, which scored lower than ever before:
Overall, 38% of voters give the press a failing grade – including 60% of Trump supporters. Voters who back Republican candidates have long been highly critical of the press, but this marks the first time a majority of any presidential candidate’s supporters has “failed” the press for its campaign conduct. In 2008, 44% of McCain voters gave the press a grade of F, as did 45% of Romney voters four years ago.
Clinton supporters grade the press much more positively. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) give the press an A or B, 26% grade it at C, 20% at D and just 15% give it a failing grade. Still, fewer Clinton supporters give the press an A or B when compared with Obama supporters in 2008 (53% A or B) and 2012 (48%).
The press was in the crosshairs of both campaigns throughout this election, with Republicans arguing that the mainstream media was systematically biased against their candidate, and Democrats insisting that the media was “normalizing” Trump, and giving too much play to Hillary Clinton’s various email and Foundation-related controversies. While voters on both sides were unusually critical of the way the press conducted itself, the anger is especially intense among Republicans, huge majorities of whom say that the media was “too tough” on Trump and “too easy” on Hillary Clinton.
Many post-election analyses have highlighted the role of right-wing media, including “fake news” propaganda sites, in allegedly influencing the election outcome. But as we noted on Friday, this phenomenon was only made possible by the broad-based decline in trust in mainstream outlets. Some of this decline probably has to do with technology and social media; some has to do with political polarization and the rising social disconnect between educated professionals, including journalists, and working class voters on both sides.
Overall, this is an ominous trend for democracy. A responsible press is vital to protecting free society and holding public officials accountable. The more the media torches its credibility with the public, the more it will be tuned out, and the less effectively it will be able to do its job.