The Media’s Role in Shaping Democracy: Is It Helping or Hurting?

Posted by on June 08, 2017 at 1:05 PM

By Jacel Egan, icitizen

The media has long been portrayed as two sides of the same coin – on one side a watchdog to check government powers, and on the other a vehicle for propaganda.

In an era where fake news has proliferated online and the lines are blurred between social media rumor and breaking news, clarifying the news media’s role in shaping democracy can be tricky. To get perspective on the topic, icitizen conducted a poll of 2,505 U.S. adults on their feedback.

Do they think the media is helping or hurting democracy? 

After all – civility in American politics has been an increasingly large concern. As pundits and politicians often set the tone for civic discourse, it can be hard to tell whether they provide a service or disservice in the eyes of the public.

The results

The poll showed a slight majority (52%) of Americans have at least some trust and confidence in the media when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly (48% don’t trust the media much or at all). That’s opposed to nearly a third (29%) who say they have no trust or confidence in the media at all. 

Assessing the media’s performance since President Trump was elected, 44% of U.S. adults say the media’s reporting has become “worse” (25% better, 29% “stayed about the same”). Could this be attributed to the rise of partisan news pundits and the ability to disseminate “news” quickly on social media? Or perhaps the growing tension between the Trump administration and the media? 

Despite the pessimism, a majority (57%) say that when it comes to the media’s criticism of political leaders, it is a “service” to the country (34% “disservice,” 8% unsure). 

Those favoring the media’s criticism of leaders include millennials (65%), both men and women under age 50 (62% respectively), 67% of those with higher education and 90% of Democrats. A full 76% of Republicans believe the news media’s criticism stands as a “disservice” to the country. 

icitizen’s Director of Polling, Cynthia Villacis, weighed in on the results: “Data trends show attitudes on the media are split along party lines. Instead of exacerbating the partisan divide among their readers, it’s imperative that news organizations work toward the common goal of full, accurate and fair reporting, not only for their core audience but for all Americans.”

Looking ahead 

So how can civic engagement organizations and coalitions come together to ensure that our audiences are well informed? What sources do your members rely on to interpret policies and stay in the loop of what’s happening in Washington?  

For more information on icitizen’s polling releases, click here.