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‘Fake News’ Threat to Media; Editorial Decisions, Outside Actors at Fault

Monday, April 2, 2018

Trump less trusted than CNN, MSNBC, and Fox as info source

West Long Branch, NJ – The news about “fake news” is not good, according to the Monmouth University Poll. Large majorities of the American public believe that traditional media outlets engage in reporting fake news and that outside sources are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media. When it comes to the meaning of “fake news,” a majority believe that it involves editorial decisions as well as inaccurate reporting. The public feels that social media platforms are partly to blame for the spread of fake news and are not doing enough to stop it. The poll also finds that Pres. Trump continues to be less trusted than the major cable news outlets as an information source.

More than 3-in-4 Americans believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report “fake news,” including 31% who believe this happens regularly and 46% who say it happens occasionally. The 77% who believe fake news reporting happens at least occasionally has increased significantly from 63% of the public who felt that way last year.

Just 25% say the term “fake news” applies only to stories where the facts are wrong. Most Americans (65%), on the other hand, say that “fake news” also applies to how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report.

“These findings are troubling, no matter how you define ‘fake news.’ Confidence in an independent fourth estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Ours appears to be headed for the intensive care unit,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The belief that major media outlets disseminate fake news at least occasionally has increased among every partisan group over the past year, including Republicans (89% up from 79% in 2017), independents (82% up from 66%), and Democrats (61% up from 43%). In addition to the fact that a clear majority of Democrats now believe that traditional media outlets report fake news at least occasionally, the poll also finds that a majority of Republicans (53%) feel this happens on a regular basis (up from 37% in 2017).

A plurality of the public (42%) say that traditional news media sources report fake news on purpose in order to push an agenda. Fewer Americans (26%) believe that major media sources tend to report these stories only by accident or due to poor fact checking. Another 7% feel both reasons are equally prevalent. The remainder are either not sure or do not feel that fake news is reported by traditional media outlets. The number who believe this type of false reporting is done on purpose has not changed much from a year ago when it stood at 39%. The number who say it is done accidentally has increased from 17% a year ago as more people feel that the traditional media engages in reporting fake news stories.

Fully 83% of Americans believe that outside groups or agents are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media. Two-thirds (66%) say this is a serious problem – including 74% of Republicans, 68% of independents, and 59% of Democrats.

“According to the public, fake news is the result of both outside agents trying to plant fabricated stories and the editorial processes of mainstream media outlets that disseminate false narratives. The perception of this problem couldn’t be more pervasive,” said Murray.

Attention has also focused on the role of social media platforms in the propagation of fake news. Nearly 9-in-10 Americans (87%) believe that outside groups are trying to plant fake news stories on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. More than two-thirds (71%) say this is a serious problem – including 81% of Republicans, 69% of independents, and 67% of Democrats.

Most Americans (60%) say that social media sites are partly responsible for the spread of fake news but that other media sources are more responsible. This compares to 29% who say that social media sites are mostly responsible for the spread of fake news. Just 6% say they are not at all responsible. There is bipartisan agreement on this opinion. [Note: the interviews for this poll were conducted prior to recent stories about Cambridge Analytica’s data mining of Facebook user profiles, which, while not directly a “fake news” issue, is related to the topic.]

Even though social media may not be the principal culprit in spreading fake news, fully 69% of Americans say that these sites are not doing enough to stop the spread of fake news on their platforms.  Just 20% say they are doing enough.

“The way the public sees it, social media is just one cog that keeps the fake news wheel turning,” said Murray.

The poll also finds that a large majority of the public (86%) believe that online news websites also report fake news, which is up slightly from 80% in March 2017. However, the number who believe that online news sources regularly report “fake news” has increased from 41% a year ago to a majority of 52% today.

Trump versus Cable News

The Monmouth University Poll also finds that Pres. Trump is trusted less as source of information than three cable news outlets – except if you ask Republicans. Nearly half the American public (48%) trusts CNN more than Trump, compared with one-third (35%) who trust Trump more than CNN and another 13% who trust both equally as a source of information. The results are similar when Trump is pitted against the left-leaning MSNBC – 45% trust MSNBC more, 32% trust Trump more, and 16% trust both equally. The right-leaning Fox News also bests the president as a trusted information source – 30% trust Fox more and 20% trust Trump more, although a plurality of 37% trust both equally.

The results for the president versus MSNBC have not changed much in the past year (47% trusted MSNBC more, 33% trusted Trump more, 15% trusted both equally in March 2017). The pendulum has swung slightly but not substantially away from Fox News and toward Trump in that matchup (37% trusted Fox News more, 17% trusted Trump more, 36% trusted both equally in March 2017). CNN was not included in the 2017 poll.

It should come as no surprise that many more Republicans trust the president as an information source than either CNN (12% versus 75% for Trump) or MSNBC (11% versus 72% for Trump). But Republicans are also somewhat more likely to trust Trump (35%) over Fox News (21%), with 40% trusting both GOP-aligned sources equally. In 2017, 29% of Republicans trusted Trump more, 26% trusted Fox more, and 44% trusted both equally, marking a slight gain for the president in the current poll.

“One bright lining in the whole fake news debate is that major cable news operations are still more trusted than a single officeholder. Unless you are a Republican, in which case Trump’s Twitter feed may be your go-to news source,” said Murray.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from March 2 to 5, 2018 with 803 adults in the United States.  The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

QUESTIONS AND RESULTS     

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

[Q1-37 previously released.]

38. I’m going to read you some names of information sources. For each pair of names I read, please tell me which one you trust more as a source of information, or whether you trust both sources about equally. First, [READ PAIR]

[ITEMS WERE ROTATED]

Donald Trump and CNN

 March
2018
Trust Trump more35%
Trust CNN more48%
Trust both equally13%
(VOL) Don’t know5%
 (n)(803)

Donald Trump and Fox News

TREND:March
2018
March
2017
Trust Trump more20%17%
Trust Fox News more30%37%
Trust both equally37%36%
(VOL) Don’t know13%10%
 (n)(803)(801)

Donald Trump and MSNBC

TREND:March
2018
March
2017
Trust Trump more32%33%
Trust MSNBC more45%47%
Trust both equally16%15%
(VOL) Don’t know6%5%
 (n)(803)(801)

[QUESTIONS 39/39A and 40/40A WERE ROTATED]

39. Do you think some traditional major news sources like TV and newspapers ever report fake news stories, or not? [If YES: Do they do this regularly or just occasionally?]

TREND:March
2018
March
2017
Yes, regularly31%27%
Yes, occasionally46%36%
No, do not21%32%
(VOL) Don’t know3%6%
 (n)(803)(801)

39A. Do you think these sources report these stories on purpose in order to push an agenda or do they tend to report them more by accident or because of poor fact checking?

TREND:March
2018
March
2017
On purpose in order to push an agenda42%39%
By accident or because of poor fact checking26%17%
(VOL) Both equally7%6%
(VOL) Don’t know1%1%
Major media do not report fake news (Q39)21%32%
Unsure if major media report fake news (Q39)3%6%
 (n)(803)(801)

40. Do you think some online news websites ever report fake news stories, or not? [If YES: Do they do this regularly or just occasionally?]

TREND:March
2018
March
2017
Yes, regularly52%41%
Yes, occasionally34%39%
No, do not9%11%
(VOL) Don’t know6%9%
 (n)(803)(801)

40A. Do you think these websites report these stories on purpose in order to push an agenda or do they tend to report them more by accident or because of poor fact checking?

TREND:March
2018
March
2017
On purpose to push an agenda58%54%
By accident or because of poor fact checking17%17%
(VOL) Both equally9%6%
(VOL) Don’t know1%2%
Online outlets do not report fake news (Q40)9%11%
Unsure if online outlets report fake news (Q40)6%9%
 (n)(803)(801)

41. When you use the term fake news, does it only apply to stories where the facts are wrong or does it also apply to how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report?

 March
2018
Only apply to stories where the facts are wrong25%
Also apply to how news outlets make editorial decisions65%
(VOL) Don’t know10%
  (n)(803)

42. Do you think outside groups or agents are actively trying to plant fake news stories in the mainstream media, or is this not happening? [If YES: Is this a serious or not too serious problem?]

 March
2018
Yes, serious problem66%
Yes, not too serious17%
No, not happening12%
(VOL) Don’t know5%
  (n)(803)

43. Do you think outside groups or agents are actively trying to plant fake news stories on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, or is this not happening? [If YES: Is this a serious or not too serious problem?]

 March
2018
Yes, serious problem71%
Yes, not too serious16%
No, not happening7%
(VOL) Don’t know7%
  (n)(803)

44. How much are social media sites like Facebook and YouTube responsible for the spread of fake news – are they mostly responsible, are they partly responsible but other media sources are more responsible, or are they not at all responsible?

 March
2018
Mostly responsible29%
Partly responsible but other media sources are more responsible60%
Not at all responsible6%
(VOL) Don’t know5%
  (n)(803)

45. Are social media sites like Facebook and YouTube currently doing enough or not doing enough to stop the spread of fake news on their sites?

 March
2018
Doing enough20%
Not doing enough69%
(VOL) Don’t know11%
  (n)(803)

[Q46-48 previously released.]

METHODOLOGY

The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from March 2 to 5, 2018 with a national random sample of 803 adults age 18 and older, in English. This includes 400 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 403 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone. Telephone numbers were selected through random digit dialing and landline respondents were selected with a modified Troldahl-Carter youngest adult household screen. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. Final sample is weighted for region, age, education, gender and race based on US Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and SSI (RDD sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design).  Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

DEMOGRAPHICS (weighted)
      Self-Reported
27% Republican
41% Independent
32% Democrat
 
49% Male
51% Female
 
30% 18-34
33% 35-54
36% 55+
 
65% White
12% Black
15% Hispanic
7% Asian/Other
 

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.

Download this Poll Report with crosstabs