Search the MRC
  30-Day Archive
  Media Reality Check
  Notable Quotables
  Press Releases
  Special Reports
  Media Bias Videos
  MRC on TV
  Take Action
  Media Bias Basics
  Profiles in Bias
  Gala and DisHonors
  Best of NQ Archive
  News Division
  NewsBusters Blog
  Business & Media Institute
  Culture and Media Institute
  About the MRC
  MRC in the News
  Support the MRC
  Planned Giving
  The Watchdog
  What Others Say
  Site Search
  Media Addresses
  Contact MRC
  MRC Bookstore
  Job Openings


Journalists’ Political Views

The Media Elite The American Journalist Los Angeles Times Survey Survey of Business Reporters Journalists — Who Are They, Really? Newspaper Journalists of the '90s The Media Elite Revisited The People and the Press: Whose Views Shape the News? How Journalists See Journalists in 2004 Journalists’ Ethics & Attitudes, 2005 The News Media and the War, 2005

March 2008. Pew: Four Times More Journalists Identify as Liberal Than Conservative

The Media Elite

In 1981, S. Robert Lichter, then with George Washington University, and Stanley Rothman of Smith College, released a groundbreaking survey of 240 journalists at the most influential national media outlets — including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS — on their political attitudes and voting patterns. Results of this study of the “media elite” were included in the October/November 1981 issue of Public Opinion, published by the American Enterprise Institute, in the article “Media and Business Elites.” The data demonstrated that journalists and broadcasters hold liberal positions on a wide range of social and political issues. This study, which was more elaborately presented in Lichter and Rothman’s subsequent book, The Media Elite, became the most widely quoted media study of the 1980s and remains a landmark today.


  • Nearly half of the journalists surveyed agreed that “the very structure of our society causes people to feel alienated,” while the authors found “five out of six believe our legal system mainly favors the wealthy.”
  • 30 percent disagreed that “private enterprise is fair to workers;” 28 percent agreed that “all political systems are repressive.”
  • 54 percent did not regard adultery as wrong, compared to only 15 percent who regarded it as wrong.
  • “Ninety percent agree that a woman has the right to decide for herself whether to have an abortion; 79 percent agree strongly with this pro-choice position.”
  • Majorities of journalists agreed with the statements: “U.S. exploits Third World, causes poverty” (56%) and “U.S. use of resources immoral” (57%). Three-fourths disagreed that the “West had helped Third World.”

The American Journalist

In late 1982 and early 1983, Indiana University journalism professors David H. Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit surveyed more than 1,000 journalists, and reported the results in their 1986 book, The American Journalist. Their poll included more than just top reporters, and, overall, they detected only a modest skew towards the liberal side of the spectrum — 22 percent of those interviewed called themselves liberal, compared with 19 percent who said they were conservative. But among 136 executives and staffers at “prominent news organizations” — the three weekly newsmagazines, the AP and UPI wire services and the Boston Globe — the liberal tilt was much more pronounced, with liberals outnumbering conservatives by a more than two-to-one margin (32 to 12 percent). Only six percent of this group identified themselves as Republican, compared with seven times as many (43 percent) who said they were Democrats.


  • Journalists were instructed: “The media are often classified politically in terms of left, right and center. On a scale from zero (meaning extreme left) to one hundred (meaning extreme right)....where on this scale would you place yourself?”
  • Most of the journalists surveyed (57.5%) chose numbers that placed themselves in the middle of the spectrum, with 22.1 percent ranking themselves as more liberal, and 17.9 percent saying they were more conservative, and 2.5 percent not responding.
  • “When the political leanings of U.S. journalists are analyzed separately for executive (those who supervise editorial employees) and staffers of prominent and nonprominent news organizations, we find more journalists (both executives and staffers) from prominent organizations claiming to be left-of-center.”
  • Among the prominent, or elite, media, 32.3 percent rated themselves as more liberal, compared to 11.8 percent who said they were more conservative. Eight percent rated themselves as solidly “left,” but none of the media elite would place themselves squarely on the “right.”
  • Nearly four in ten of all journalists surveyed (38.5%) described themselves as Democrats, compared to just 18.8 percent who said they were Republicans. Among the journalists working at prominent news organizations, just 6 percent would admit to being Republicans, compared to 43 percent who said they were Democrats.

Los Angeles Times Survey

In 1985, the Los Angeles Times conducted one of the most extensive surveys of journalists in history. Using the same questionnaire they had used to poll the public, the Times polled 2,700 journalists at 621 newspapers across the country. The survey asked 16 questions involving foreign affairs, social and economic issues. On 15 of 16 questions, the journalists gave answers to the left of those given by the public.


  • Self-identified liberals outnumbered conservatives in the newsroom by more than three-to-one, 55 to 17 percent. This compares to only one-fourth of the public (23 percent) that identified themselves as liberal.
  • 84 percent of reporters and editors supported a so-called "nuclear freeze" to ban all future nuclear missile deployment; 80 percent were against increased defense spending; and 76 percent opposed aid to the Nicaraguan Contras.
  • 82 percent of reporters and editors favored allowing women to have abortions; 81 percent backed affirmative action; and 78 percent wanted stricter gun control.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of journalists opposed prayer in public schools; three-fourths of the general public (74%) supported prayer in public schools.

Survey of Business Reporters

A 1988 poll by a New York-based newsletter, Journalist and Financial Reporting, surveyed 151 business reporters from over 30 publications ranging from the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times and Chicago Tribune to Money, Fortune and Business Week. The survey found that newspaper and magazine business reporters are just as liberal as their colleagues covering politics.


  • 54 percent identified themselves as Democrats, just 9 percent as Republicans.
  • 76 percent reported they opposed school prayer and 75 percent were against aid to the Contras, rebels fighting the Communist-backed Nicaraguan government. An overwhelming 86 percent favored abortion.
  • More than half, 52 percent, evaluated President Reagan’s performance in office as “poor” or “below average.” Only 17 percent gave him an “excellent” or “good,” while 19 percent considered him “average.”
  • Asked who they wished to see become President, 27 percent named liberal New York Governor Mario Cuomo (D), trailed by 20 percent for Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) and nine percent for Senator Paul Simon (D-Ill). Senator Bob Dole was the most “popular” Republican, garnering a piddling eight percent.
  • Rev. Pat Robertson, then a GOP candidate, topped the list — at 44 percent — of those the reporters would “least like to see as President,” followed by 19 percent who named the eventual winner that year, George H. W. Bush.

Journalists — Who Are They, Really?

In 1992, Professors Weaver and Wilhoit conducted another national survey of journalists, and noticed the group had moved farther to the left. Writing in the Fall 1992 Media Studies Journal, they discovered that 47 percent of journalists now said they were “liberal,” while only 22 percent labeled themselves as “conservative.”


  • 44 percent of journalists identified themselves as Democrats, an increase from the early 1980s, while 16 percent tagged themselves as Republican, a decline from the earlier study.
  • “Compared to the overall U.S. population, journalists are 3 percent to 10 percent more likely to say they are Democrats, depending on which national survey you use as a yardstick, and 10 to 17 points less likely to say they are Republicans.”

  • Nearly half of the journalists surveyed (47 percent) called themselves “liberal,” compared to 22 percent who described themselves as “conservative.” Gallup polls taken at the same time found just 18 percent of the public considered themselves liberal, while 34 percent of the public said they were conservative.
  • The study authors found “minorities are much more likely to call themselves Democrats than are white journalists, especially blacks (70 percent), Asians (63 percent) and Hispanics (59 percent).”
  • Women journalists (58 percent) are much more likely than men (38 percent) to prefer the Democratic Party.
  • More than half of journalists (51%) said abortion should be “legal under any circumstances,” compared to just 4 percent who thought abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances.” Among the general public, 33 percent wanted abortion “legal under any circumstances,” and 14 percent thought it should always be illegal.

Newspaper Journalists of the ’90s

In 1996, as a follow-up to a 1988 survey, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) surveyed 1,037 reporters at 61 newspapers of all sizes across the nation, and found that newsrooms were more ideologically unrepresentative than they had been in the late 1980s. While the percentage of journalists calling themselves “Democrat or liberal” essentially held steady (going from 62 to 61 percent of those surveyed), the percentage saying they were “Republican or conservative” dropped from 22 percent to just 15 percent of journalists. The ASNE report, The Newspaper Journalists of the ’90s, also revealed that bigger — presumably more influential — newspapers had the most liberal staffs.


  • According to ASNE: “In 1996 only 15 percent of the newsroom labeled itself conservative/Republican or leaning in that direction, down from 22 percent in 1988. The greatest gain is in the ‘independent’ column, which rose from 17 percent to 24 percent. Liberal/Democrats and those leaning that way slipped only from 62 to 61 percent.”

  • “Political orientation does not vary across job descriptions, except that editorial writers are more likely to be independent or conservative than staffers in the newsroom.”
  • “On papers of at least 50,000 circulation, 65 percent of the staffs are liberal/Democrat or leaning that way, and 12 percent are conservative/Republican or leaning that way.”
  • Women in the newsroom were more likely than men to identify as liberal/Democratic. Only 11 percent identified themselves as conservative or leaned that way.
  • Minority journalists are even more liberal/Democrat than other reporters, with a mere three percent of blacks and eight percent of Asians and Hispanics putting themselves on the right.

The Media Elite Revisited

In 1995, Stanley Rothman and Amy Black polled the news media elite — “reporters and editors at major national newspapers, news magazines and wire services” as part of a larger examination of nine elite groups in the U.S. The results were published in the Spring 2001 issue of The Public Interest. They found the media elite held strongly liberal views on abortion, homosexuality, and a range of economic issues. “Despite the discrediting of centrally planned economies produced by the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Communist regimes, attitudes about government control of the economy have not changed very much since the 1980s,” the authors marveled.


  • Nearly all of the media elite (97 percent) agreed that “it is a woman’s right to decide whether or not to have an abortion,” and five out of six (84 percent) agreed strongly.
  • Three out of four journalists (73 percent) agreed that “homosexuality is as acceptable a lifestyle as heterosexuality,” and 40 percent agreed strongly.
  • Seven out of ten journalists (71 percent) agreed that “government should work to ensure that everyone has a job,” and 30 percent said they strongly agreed with that statement.
  • Three-fourths (75 percent) agreed that “government should work to reduce the income gap between the rich and the poor,” and more than a third (34 percent) strongly agreed.
  • Relatively few journalists (39 percent) agreed that “less government regulation of business would be good for the economy,” and just five percent strongly agreed with this sentiment.

The People and the Press: Whose Views Shape the News?

In the July/August 2001 edition of the Roper Center’s Public Perspective, Washington Post national political correspondent Thomas Edsall summarized the findings of a Kaiser Family Foundation poll of 301 “media professionals,” 300 “policymakers” and the 1,206 members of the public. The media professionals included “reporters and editors from top newspapers, TV and radio networks, news services and news magazines.” The results showed that “only a tiny fraction of the media identifies itself as either Republican (4%), or conservative (6%),” placing reporters far to the left of media consumers.


  • Four times as many “media professionals” told the pollsters they considered themselves “liberal” (25%) than called themselves “conservative” (6%). Among the general public, self-identified conservatives outnumbered liberals, 38 percent to 21 percent.

  • More than six times as many media professionals called themselves Democrats (27%), than said they were Republicans (just 4%). Among the general public, Democrats slightly outnumbered Republicans, 34 percent to 28 percent.
  • Policymakers were also found to be less liberal than journalists. According to Edsall, “These areas of divergence between the public and the press lend themselves to conflict, both with the consumers and the makers of news, and threaten to diminish the legitimacy of American journalism.”
  • Edsall: “Whether or not members of the media agree with conservative voters on any given set of questions is not at issue. The problem is the invisibility of these men and women to the national media, and, most especially, the inability of the press to represent their views in public discourse.”

How Journalists See Journalists in 2004

In May 2004, the Pew Research Center for The People and The Press (in association with the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists) surveyed 547 journalists and media executives, including 247 at national-level media outlets. The poll was similar to ones conducted by the same group (previously known as the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press) in 1995 and 1999. The actual polling was done by the Princeton Survey Research Associates.


  • Five times more national journalists identify themselves as “liberal” (34 percent) than “conservative” (just 7 percent). In contrast, a survey of the public taken in May 2004 found 20 percent saying they were liberal, and 33 percent saying they were conservative.
  • The percentage of national reporters saying they are liberal has increased, from 22 percent in 1995 to 34 percent in 2004. The percentage of self-identified conservatives remains low, rising from a meager 4 percent in 1995 to a still-paltry 7 percent in 2004.

  • Liberals also outnumber conservatives in local newsrooms. Pew found that 23 percent of the local journalists they questioned say they are liberals, while about half as many (12 percent) call themselves conservative.
  • Most national journalists (55 percent) say the media are “not critical enough” of President Bush, compared with only eight percent who believe the press has been “too critical.” In 1995, the poll found just two percent thought journalists had given “too much” coverage to then-President Clinton’s accomplishments, compared to 48 percent who complained of “too little” coverage of Clinton’s achievements.
  • Reporters struggled to name a liberal news organization. According to Pew, “The New York Times was most often mentioned as the national daily news organization that takes a decidedly liberal point of view, but only by 20% of the national sample.” Only two percent of reporters suggested CNN, ABC, CBS, or NPR were liberal; just one percent named NBC.
  • Journalists did see ideology at one outlet: “The single news outlet that strikes most journalists as taking a particular ideological stance — either liberal or conservative — is Fox News Channel,” Pew reported. More than two-thirds of national journalists (69 percent) tagged FNC as a conservative news organization, followed by The Washington Times (9 percent) and The Wall Street Journal (8 percent).

Journalists’ Ethics & Attitudes, 2005

Preparing for a panel discussion on the media, the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands commissioned a poll of 673 journalists, including 424 from newspapers, 48 from broadcast and cable networks, 47 from top-50-market local television stations, 45 from Web sites, 41 from other television stations, 26 from national radio networks, 18 from wire services, 14 from top-50-market local radio stations and 10 from magazines. The surveys were conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates between March 7 and May 2, 2005, with the results released on May 24, 2005. The poll asked questions on journalistic ethics and about journalists’ views on issues and overall ideology.


  • Nearly all journalists (95%) rated “the ethical practices of journalists” as either “very good” (32%) or “somewhat good.” A majority of the same group (56%) found the “ethical practices of politicians” either “somewhat bad” or “very bad.”
  • Most journalists also said they thought “news organizations get the facts straight” (86%) and that “most news organizations quickly report” any mistakes (74%), compared to just three percent who saw a propensity to “try to cover up” mistakes.
  • Only 10 percent of reporters thought a major reason for CBS’s use of forged memos in the infamous National Guard story was because “CBS News and Dan Rather are liberals who dislike President Bush,” with most (54%) saying that was “not a reason at all.”
  • Most of the journalists (76%) said they thought the story ran because “CBS News and Dan Rather believed the story was accurate and provided new information about the controversy surrounding Bush’s service in the National Guard.”
  • A total of 31 percent described themselves as “very liberal” or “liberal” compared to just nine percent who identified themselves as “very conservative” or “conservative,” with 49 percent maintaining they are “moderate.”
  • More than half of the journalists (57%) said they attend worship services only “a few times a year” (34%) or “never” (23%), compared to 27 percent who said they attend either “every week” (17%) or “almost every week” (10%).
  • Nearly three in five journalists (59%) favored laws allowing “two men or two women to marry each other.” Among the general public, only 28 percent favored so-called same-sex marriage.


The News Media and the War, 2005

As part of a larger study of how the views of “opinion leaders” compare with those of the general public, the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press, in collaboration with the Council on Foreign relations, surveyed 72 top journalists in September and October 2005. The study, which was released on November 17, 2005, found that, compared to everyday citizens, journalists were more likely to have opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq, were more pessimistic about the chances of success in Iraq, and were far less likely to see immigration reform as a national priority. Reporters were also more disapproving of President Bush’s job performance.


  • The public was nearly evenly split on whether the U.S. should have invaded Iraq in 2003, with 48 percent agreeing with the decision and 45 percent disagreeing. But among journalists, 71 percent said they considered it a bad decision, compared to just 28 percent that thought it was the right move.

  • Similarly, while the public is evenly split on whether the war in Iraq will help or hurt the U.S. in the overall war on terror (44% to 44%), three times as many journalists say the war in Iraq has been harmful as think it was helpful (68% to 22%).
  • While 56 percent of the public said “efforts to establish a stable democracy” in Iraq will succeed, 63 percent of the news media elite think it will fail.
  • Nearly half of the public (46%) believe torture of terrorist suspects can be “often” or “sometimes” justified, while 78 percent of the news media elite contend it is “rarely” or “never” justified.
  • Just 17 percent of journalists said they thought “reducing illegal immigration” was a “top priority,” compared to 51 percent of the public who rate it as a “top priority.”
  • Just 21 percent of the media approved of President Bush’s job performance in the fall of 2005, compared to 40 percent of the public.

Media Bias Basics HomeHow the Media VoteJournalists' Political ViewsHow the Public Views the Media Admissions of Liberal BiasDenials of Liberal Bias


Print-Friendly Version