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Rated: E · Article · Research · #1749612
How Political Party Affiliation Affects Confidence Levels in the Media
Republican, Independent, Democrat:
How Political Party Affiliation Affects Confidence Levels in the Media
BRCT Mass Communication Research Methods


Abstract


Republican, Independent, Democrat:
How Political Party Affiliation Affects Confidence Levels in the Media


While many factors contribute to the overall decreasing trust in the media nationwide, the demography of the viewer is crucial to understanding the individual who distrusts most. Viewers and readers of both television and print complain of the media as being inaccurate, unfair, and biased. Previous literature has shown that those who identify themselves as a strong Republican have the least amount of trust in the media, and while this study supports that claim, it is designed to indulge deeper into how political party affiliation affects an individual’s confidence in the media using secondary analysis. This study suggests that by understanding the individual who distrusts most, changes can be made accordingly to cater to the needs of viewers.


Introduction


As confidence in both the press and television continue to decline among the population, it is important to explore the characteristics of those who have the least amount of trust in the media. By understanding the individual who distrusts most, changes can be made accordingly to cater to the problem that can affect both the journalistic profession as well as the rest of the population.
In this paper, political party affiliation will be examined in reference to political news coverage. Whether an individual identifies him or herself as Republican, Independent or Democratic will be researched as to if this has any effect on confidence levels in the media. Why political affiliation affects confidence in the credibility of media will also be examined through previous literature on the topic.
A lack of confidence in the media consequently affects voter outcome among other negative results in the profession, and therefore should be addressed. Political candidates are dependent on trustworthy media coverage, as are the evolution of politics in the nation and the credibility of democracy. Likewise, by identifying how party affiliation correlates with media trust, the journalism field will be one step closer to fixing gaps in political bias or coverage to counteract these perspectives and provide coverage closer to the ideals of the profession.


Literature Review


A Decline in Perceptions of Media Credibility

“Americans have expressed increasingly negative opinions about the media since the mid-1960s,” Bennett, Rhine, and Flickinger wrote (2001, 163). Expanding, authors Kohut and Toth wrote that these complaints include the press being inaccurate, unfair, and biased (1994).
Jones (2004) wrote that the first step towards explaining this decline in the perception of media credibility is by exploring individual-level variation in media trust. By this he means that it may not be the shortcomings of news coverage that is the largest variable in this phenomenon, but rather a lack of trust in the government or other factors that have nothing to do with media credibility itself. He also wrote that trust in the media is particularly low among conservatives. Again, this may not be due to declining journalistic standards but rather to a perceived or literal liberal bias in news coverage (Jones, 2004).
Bennett, Rhine and Flickinger agreed. Their findings showed that people who adhere to traditional moral codes tend to not trust media coverage, especially in relation to political news (2001). By exploring the Lewinsky scandal, the authors noted that the press’s fairness was questioned by much of the population. In a presidential election year, they wrote, opinions about how the president performed correlated with the public’s perception of media fairness. Likewise, in an off-election year, opinions of how the Congress performed correlated with the public’s perception of fairness (2001). Like Jones, the authors noted that various other factors unrelated to journalistic standards and performance affect the public’s perception of media credibility.
In explaining why Jones found that trust in media is particularly low among conservatives, Bennett, Rhine and Flickinger wrote that a Pew Center poll found that 67% of the public believed that news revolving around political issues tended to favor one side rather than fairly deal with all sides (2001). The study does not show if or why it is one side of the political affiliation spectrum that has lower trust in the media than the other.
Why a Lack of Trust in the Media Matters…
Authors Matthes, Wirth, and Schemer wrote on the importance of journalism professionals maintaining what trust is left with the public. In their conference paper, they wrote that “trust in media and trust in politics are two highly intertwined mechanisms that are of utmost significance to modern societies” (Matthes et al, 2008, 1).
Political candidates are especially concerned with their perceived credibility, and in a declining atmosphere of media trust, politics cannot evolve. Both trust in newspaper and trust in television among the population increase trust in politics, which consequently will affect the outcome of voting and political participation (Matthes et al, 2008).
Authors Tsfati and Cohen also touched on this notion, and similarly in one of high consequences of media distrust. In an article based on the case of the Gaza settlers, the authors argue that media trust affects trust in democracy and the willingness to accept political decisions (2005). By examining this particular case, the authors noted that hostile media coverage shapes people’s trust in mainstream media institutions. Findings showed that not only were hostile perceptions negatively related to trust in media, but that trust in media was positively related to trust in democracy; similar to the findings of Matthew, Wirth and Schemer (Tsfati & Cohen, 2005).
Even though news organizations are private-sectors and not formal political institutions, they still should be treated as such. Declining confidence in the media should warrant our attention (Jones, 2004). Authors Dautrich and Bare agreed, writing that “lower levels of confidence in the media may deprive the public of some of the essentials of democracy: a source of current information and public education that it can trust and a watchdog for public officials in which it has confidence” (Dautrich & Bare, 2005). They also wrote that an uninformed public is less likely to vote and are more likely to become cynical regarding elections (2005).
Political Affiliation, Religion and Media Credibility

If traditional values are said to play a role in categorizing media credibility, what role does religion play in the political process in relation to media outlets? According to DiSalvo and Copulsky, the role of religion in American politics was at the forefront in the primaries this year, especially because “values voters” did not have a clear-cut favorite among Republican candidates (2009).
DiSalvo and Copulsky wrote that the media picked up the story of Obama’s, Romney’s, and Huckabee’s strategies and tactics in relation to the parties’ competition for religious voters, noting that “members of the press were quick to pounce on, and in some cases even fished for, controversial religious statements” (DiSalvo & Copulsky, 2009, 2). This could lead to feelings of bias and distrust in newspapers and television, especially from conservative or religious voters.
Buddenbaum wrote a different approach in describing the role of religion in newspaper trust, noting that religion relates to community integration, which in turn leads to newspaper trust and use. Her research found that trust was highest among the Catholic population and lowest among Fundamentalists and Evangelicals (Buddenbaum, 1996).
Given that confidence levels in the media are still declining, and that traditional values and religion play a role in characterizing the individual who has the least amount of confidence in press and television, the following hypotheses will be addressed:

H1: An individual who identifies him or herself as a strong Republican is less
likely to have strong confidence in the media than an individual who identifies him or herself as Democratic.
H2: An individual who identifies him or herself as conservative is less likely to have strong
confidence in the media than an individual who identifies him or herself as liberal.

Likewise, the following research question will also be explored:
RQ1: How does an individual who identifies him or herself as an Independent fit into the
equation, with respect to media credibility?


Methodology

Using secondary analysis, a data subset from the latest General Social Survey (GSS) was used to identify variables and run crosstabs to answer questions pertaining to the variables. The GSS is the most frequently used source of information for the social sciences, after the U.S. Census, and tracks the opinions of Americans over time. According to the NORC at the University of Chicago website, the GSS “contains a standard ‘core’ of demographic and attitudinal questions, plus topics of special interest” (www.norc.org/projects/gensoc.asp).
Political party affiliation was one variable used in the analysis. After running a frequency on the variable, N=4510, with 26 missing. Respondents could identify themselves as strong Democrat, not strong Democrat, Independent – near Democrat, Independent, Independent – near Republican, not strong Republican, strong Republican, and Other Party. For this study, the variables used to be analyzed are the respondents who identified themselves as a strong Democrat, an Independent, or a strong Republican.
Another demographic used is whether the respondent thought of him or herself as Liberal or Conservative. In this frequency, N=4487, with 23 missing. Respondents could identify themselves as extremely Liberal, Liberal, slightly Liberal, Moderate, slightly Conservative, Conservative, extremely Conservative, and do not know. For this study, the variables used to be analyzed are the respondents who identified themselves as Liberal, Moderate, or Conservative.
Lastly, variables were cross-examined with respondent’s answers to confidence in the press and confidence in television. N=4510 for both variables and respondents could answer anywhere for having a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, hardly any confidence, and do not know.
A crosstabulation was run, comparing party affiliation with confidence in television and confidence in the press. Whether a respondent identified him or herself as liberal or conservative was also compared to confidence levels in television and the press. The results of the crosstab could then be used to answer the previous hypotheses and research question.

Results


After the crosstabulation was run, H1 was proven true using secondary analysis. N=1981 respondents in comparing political party affiliation with confidence in the press. Ten out of the 218 respondents that identified themselves as strong Republicans noted that they have a great deal of confidence in the press, or 4.59%. Thirty-eight out of the 293 respondents that identified themselves as strong Democrats noted that they have a great deal of confidence in the press, or 12.97%. Likewise, 139 out of the 218 respondents that identified themselves as strong Republicans noted that they have hardly any confidence in the press, or 63.76%. Eighty-eight out of the 293 respondents that identified themselves as strong Democrats noted that they have hardly any confidence in the press, or 30.03%.
N=1981 respondents in comparing political party affiliation with confidence in television. Thirteen out of the 218 respondents that identified themselves as strong Republicans noted that they have a great deal of confidence in television, or 5.96%. Thirty-three out of the 294 respondents that identified themselves as strong Democrats noted that they have a great deal of confidence in television, or 11.22%. Likewise, 116 out of the 218 respondents that identified themselves as strong Republicans noted that they have hardly any confidence in television, or 53.21%. One hundred and eleven out of the 294 respondents that identified themselves as strong Democrats noted that they have hardly any confidence in television, or 37.75%.
After the crosstabulation was run, H2 was proven true using secondary analysis. N=1984 respondents in comparing thinking of self as liberal or conservative with confidence in the press. Twenty-one out of the 305 respondents that identified themselves as conservative noted that they have a great deal of confidence in the press, or 6.89%. Twenty-eight out of the 226 respondents that identified themselves as liberal noted that they have a great deal of confidence in the press, or 12.39%. Likewise, 179 out of the 305 respondents that identified themselves as conservative noted that they have hardly any confidence in the press, or 58.69%. Sixty-six out of the 226 respondents that identified themselves as liberal noted that they have hardly any confidence in the press, or 29.2%.
N=1984 respondents in comparing thinking of self as liberal or conservative with confidence in television. Nineteen out of the 305 respondents that identified themselves as conservative noted that they have a great deal of confidence in television, or 6.23%. Twenty-one out of the 226 respondents that identified themselves as liberal noted that they have a great deal of confidence in television, or 9.29%. Likewise, 153 out of the 305 respondents that identified themselves as conservative noted that they have hardly any confidence in television, or 50.16%. Eighty-eight out of the 226 respondents that identified themselves as liberal noted that they have hardly any confidence in television, or 38.94%.
With respect to the research question, 55 out of 440 respondents that identified themselves as Independent noted that they have a great deal of confidence in the press, or 12.5%. One hundred and ninety out of the 440 respondents noted that they have hardly any confidence in the press, or 43.18%. When comparing great deals of confidence in the press, this is more than strong Republicans, with 4.59%, and about the same as strong Democrats, with 12.97%. When comparing hardly any confidence in the press, this is less than strong Republicans, with 63.76%, but more than strong Democrats, with 30.03%.
Sixty-five out of 440 respondents that identified themselves as Independents noted that they have a great deal of confidence in television, or 14.77%. One hundred and eighty-one out of the 440 respondents noted that they have hardly any confidence in television, or 41.14%. When comparing great deals of confidence in television, this is more than strong Republicans, with 5.96%, and more than strong Democrats, with 11.22%. When comparing hardly any confidence in the press, this is less than strong Republicans, with 53.21%, but more than strong Democrats, with 37.75%.

Discussion
It is important to note some of the dramatic differences in numbers between strong Republicans and confidence levels in both press and television and strong Democrats and Independents. While strong Democrats and Independents remained relatively similar in confidence levels, Republicans consistently showed far less levels of trust in the media.
This holds true for those who thought of themselves as conservative versus liberal as well. Conservatives consistently showed lower levels of trust in the media than liberals. This research does not show how traditional values and religion correlate with political party affiliation or conservatism versus liberalism. The demography of different religious affiliations could also be studied in this context, and how it relates to political coverage or how members of these religious groups identify themselves politically.
The secondary analysis was somewhat limited to extremes in political affiliation. Only strong Republicans and strong Democrats were studied, but those that identified themselves as “not strong Republicans” and “not strong Democrats” should also be factored into the equation. Respondents were also given the choice to identify themselves as “Independent, near Democrat,” and “Independent, near Republican,” which could be factored in as well to show a more evenly skewed population.
On the same note, only those respondents who identified themselves as either liberal or conservative were studied. Respondents could also choose more extremes, noting that they are “extremely liberal” or “extremely conservative.” Also, more moderate forms of this could also be examined, including those respondents who identified themselves as “slightly liberal,” “moderate,” or “conservative,” to provide for a more evenly skewed population as well.
As was noted in the Literature Review, Bennett, Rhine and Flickinger wrote that a Pew Center poll found that 67% of the public believed that news revolving around political issues tended to favor one side rather than fairly deal with all sides (2001). This could also be studied in future research, in context of how many news stations show Republican bias versus bias towards Democratic candidates.

Conclusion
As was stated in the Discussion section, this research dealt with more extreme forms of political party affiliation and less extreme forms of liberalism and conservatism. Future research can analyze more moderate forms included in the population, can correlate traditional values with political party affiliation, or can monitor political news coverage stations in biased statements towards candidates of different political party affiliations.
By understanding the demographics of the individual who distrusts the media most, improvements in the journalism profession, voting outcome, and responses toward democracy can be made. This research was catered to just one aspect of this demography, but showed a consistent range of distrust in one group of affiliates versus the others. To better equip young professionals entering the journalism profession, changes can be made accordingly to promote closer ideals of what the profession stands for.


Sources:

Bennett, S., Rhine, S., & Flickinger, R. (2001). Assessing Americans’ Opinions About the
News Media’s Fairness in 1996 and 1998. Political Communication, 18(2), 163-182.
Buddenbaum, J. (1996). The Role of Religion in Newspaper Trust, Subscribing, and Use
for Political Information. Religion & Mass Media: Audiences & Adaptations,
123-134.
Dautrich, K., Bare, J. (2005). Why the First Amendment (and Journalism) Might Be in
Trouble. Nieman Reports, 59(2), 49-50.
DiSalvo, D., Copulsky, J. (2009). Faith in the Primaries. Perspectives on Political Science,
38(2), 99-106
Jones, D. (2004). Why Americans Don’t Trust the Media. Harvard International Journal of
Press/Politics, 9(2), 60-75.
Kohut, A., Toth, R. (1994). Arms and the People. Foreign Affairs, 73(6), 47-61.
Matthes, J., Wirth, W., Schemer, C. (2008). Understanding the Consequences of Trust. The
Effects of Trust in News Media on Trust in Politics. International Communication Association, 1.
Tsfati, Y., Cohen, J. (2005). Democratic Consequences of Hostile Media Perceptions: The
Case of Gaza Settlers. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 10(4),
28-51.


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