Even if they are not “fake news” or “the enemy of the people”, it is clear that the reputation of the news media is under siege. According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans with some or a great deal of trust in the press has dropped 30 percentage points since the late 1970s. Ipsos recently conducted a survey with the American public to better understand how Americans currently view the press and public support for efforts to restrict journalism. While we found that the large majority of Americans support the concept of the 1st Amendment, there are worrying signs that freedom of the press might be conditional to many people.
First off, the good news. The large majority of Americans, 85%, agree that the “Freedom of the press is essential for American democracy.” Additionally, two-thirds (68%) say that “reporters should be protected from pressure from government or big business interests.” Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree with these two statements signaling deep support for the concept of freedom of the press.
Some of the limits of public support for freedom of the press are made stark with a quarter of Americans (26%) saying they agree “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior,” including a plurality of Republicans (43%). Likewise, most Americans (72%) think “it should be easier to sue reporters who knowingly publish false information.”
Unanimity starts to break down as we more grounded questions. While a plurality — 46% — agree “most news outlets try their best to produce honest reporting”, there are very stark splits by the partisan identification of the respondent with most Democrats (68%) generally believing in the good intent of journalists, but comparatively few Republicans (29%). And when we ask questions with specific partisan cues, the political split is very wide. For instance, 80% of Republicans but only 23% of Democrats agree that “most news outlets have a liberal bias,” and 79% of Republicans but only 11% of Democrats agree, “the mainstream media treats President Trump unfairly. Returning to President Trump’s views on the press, almost a third of the American people (29%) agree with the idea that “the news media is the enemy of the American people,” including a plurality of Republicans (48%).
A final statistic is somewhat reassuring, only 13% of Americans agree that “President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times.” Here less than a quarter of Republicans (23%) agree along with fewer than one in ten Democrats (8%).