An unequivocal majority of American voters believes in the importance of free press, yet many do not see this crucial freedom at risk. Despite intensifying political attacks against the press, many voters do not see an urgency around defending the media, nor even believe the news media is currently under threat, according to a bipartisan study carried out by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Echelon Insights.
The study was jointly sponsored by the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press and Democracy Fund. It shows that a majority of voters, 52 percent, do not see a threat to press freedom; further, only 28 percent report seeing an urgent threat against the press.
Yet the research suggests hope for those who seek to build support around press freedom and the news media. The survey points to clear guidance for advocates, journalists, and news media organizations for building back trust and reinforcing the value of a free press.
Highlight the press’s role to inform. According to the survey, this is far more compelling to voters than framing press attacks as an affront to democracy or democratic values. Voters are more troubled if attacks prevent the news media from doing their job to inform the public.
Address perceptions of bias in news coverage, especially as relates to the business of gathering news. Perceived bias in reporting is a top concern, with a majority of both Republicans and Independents saying journalists “filtering news with their own political opinions” is one of their biggest doubts about the news media. Democrats are not immune, and frame their concern around the media sensationalizing news stories for likes and clicks.
Don’t make President Trump the focus of the free press conversation. Mentioning President Trump by name in a message as attacking the press (rather than generic “politicians”) results in a double-digit drop in support among Republicans and Independents who find it a convincing reason to defend the press.
Reach out to politically diverse audiences, including more moderate Republicans. The data shows there are many sympathetic Republicans who are concerned about journalists’ ability to inform the public.
Illustrate threats to press freedom by using real examples. In the poll, voters who assess the threat to the press before and after hearing facts about attacks on journalists see a 9-point increase in their perception of a threat.
Be transparent about newsgathering decisions and promote accountability for mistakes. Across political affiliations, voters point to acknowledging mistakes as the most important thing the news media can do to show they are listening and a credible source.