Category: Media & News

In Western Europe, Public Attitudes Toward News Media More Divided by Populist Views Than Left-Right Ideology

News Media

In Western Europe, public views of the news media are divided by populist leanings – more than left-right political positions – according to a new Pew Research Center public opinion survey conducted in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Across all eight countries, those who hold populist views value and trust the news media less, and they also give the media lower marks for coverage of major issues, such as immigration, the economy and crime.1

Trust in the news media dips lowest in Spain, France, the UK and Italy, with roughly a quarter of people with populist views in each country expressing confidence in the news media. By contrast, those without populist leanings are 8 to 31 percentage points more likely to at least somewhat trust the news media across the countries surveyed.

In Spain, Germany and Sweden, public trust in the media also divides along the left-right ideological spectrum, but the magnitude of difference pales in comparison to the divides between those with and without populist leanings.

When it comes to how the news media perform on key functions, broad majorities of the publics rate the news media highly for generally covering the most important issues of the day. This includes majorities of both those who do and do not hold populist views, though there are still significant differences in the magnitude of those ratings. More substantial divides between those two groups occur around how the news media do in covering three specific issues asked about here: the economy, immigration and crime. (See detailed tables for more information.)

Here again the UK stands apart. Even as the BBC dominates as the top main news source for British adults –by both populists and non-populists – there is still a large difference between the portions of these two groups who name it as their primary source. Just 42% of those with populist views name the BBC as their main news source, compared with six-in-ten among those who do not hold populist views. Left-right ideological differences do not emerge: roughly half on both the left (48%) and the right (51%) name the BBC as their main news source.

News Media

These are some of the key findings of a major Pew Research Center survey of 16,114 adults about news media usage and attitudes across eight Western European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – conducted from Oct. 30 to Dec. 20, 2017. Together, these eight European Union member states3 account for roughly 69% of the EU population and 75% of the EU economy.

Publics in Western Europe view news outlets as more partisan than what is reflected in their audiences

In each country, in addition to volunteering their main news source, respondents were asked about eight specific news outlets. These were selected by researchers to capture a range of news platforms, outlets with different funding sources, and diversity in their ideological leanings. Generally, people tend to describe outlets that they turn to for news as being relatively close to their own left-right political identity.4

This differs, however, from where the average audience actually sits politically. When asked whether people regularly turned to each of the eight outlets for news, the self-reported audiences of those outlets tend to cluster around the ideological center.