Media Bias Basics

How the Public Views the Media

The People & The Press, 1997What the People Want from the PressASNE Journalism Credibility Project, 1998The People & The Press, 2000The Gallup OrganizationThe People & The Press, 2003Bias in the 2004 Presidential CampaignMissouri School of Journalism, 2004American Journalism Review, 2005CBS’s "State of the Media," 2006

The People & The Press, 1997

One of the most comprehensive surveys of the public’s general opinion of the media was done in 1997 by the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press, formerly known as the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press. This research compared poll results from the mid-1980s with the late-1990s, (using identical questions) and determined a growing percentage of the public realize the media are biased.


  • Two-thirds (67%) said agreed with the statement: “In dealing with political and social issues, news organizations tend to favor one side.” That was up 14 points from 53 percent who gave that answer in 1985.
  • Those who believed the media “deal fairly with all sides” fell from 34 percent to 27 percent.
  • “In one of the most telling complaints, a majority (54%) of Americans believe the news media gets in the way of society solving its problems,” Pew reported.
  • Republicans “are more likely to say news organizations favor one side than are Democrats or independents (77 percent vs. 58 percent and 69 percent, respectively).”
  • The percentage who felt “news organizations get the facts straight” fell from 55 percent to 37 percent.

What the People Want from the Press

In November 1996, the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) partnered with the Lou Harris Organization to poll 3,000 people about their attitudes toward the press. According to the poll, those who saw a liberal bias outnumbered those who perceived a conservative bias by two-to-one. The results of the poll were published in the May/June 1997 Media Monitor, the CMPA’s newsletter and later released as a 226-page report, What the People Want from the Press.


  • CMPA reported: “Majorities of all major groups in the population, including 70 percent of self-described liberals, now see a ‘fair amount’ or ‘great deal’ of bias in the news. In general, perceptions of bias rise along with levels of education and political participation.”
  • “Those who see a liberal tilt outnumber those who detect a conservative bias by more than a two to one margin. Forty-three percent describe the news media’s perspective on politics as liberal, compared to 33 percent who see it as a middle of the road, and 19 percent who find it to be conservative.”
  • “Even self-described liberals agree: 41 percent see the media as liberal, compared to only 22 percent who find the news to be conservative.”

  • “These findings challenge the argument of some journalists that bias is purely in the eye of the beholder. Although conservatives are three times more likely to see liberal rather than conservative bias, moderates and liberals alike see liberal bias in the media twice as often as they see conservative bias,” CMPA concluded.

ASNE Journalism Credibility Project, 1998

As part of “a $1 million project to improve the credibility of newspapers and journalism,” the American Society of Newspaper Editors commissioned a poll of 3,000 Americans in April and May of 1998. The survey found that more than three-fourths of Americans (78%) believed that the press is biased, and an equal percentage believed that reporters would “spike or spin” a story to suit powerful interests. The findings were detailed in a 1999 report, Examining Our Credibility: Perspectives of the Public and the Press.


  • “78 percent of U.S. adults agree with the assessment that there is bias in the news media,” the report found.
  • “58 percent believe that the public’s dissatisfaction with the media is justified — as opposed to 29 percent who say the press is ‘an easy target for deeper problems in our society.’”
  • “78 percent believe that powerful people can get stories into the paper — or keep them out.”
  • “50 percent believe there are particular people or groups that get a ‘special break’ in news coverage, and 45 percent believe that others ‘don’t get a fair shake.’”
  • “77 percent believe newspapers pay lots more attention to stories that support their own point of view.”
  • “Although a sizeable portion of the public (46 percent) thinks that their newspaper is more liberal than they, another significant segment (36 percent) see the newspaper as more conservative than themselves,” ASNE found.

The People & The Press, 2000

During the election year, the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press frequently polled public attitudes about the media. In an October 15, 2000 report, the group found that most voters “generally believe the media has been fair to both major presidential candidates, but more say the press has been fair to Al Gore than to George W. Bush.” In fact, the vast majority of respondents (89%) agreed that reporters’ political views often or sometimes influenced the coverage.


  • When asked, “How often do you think members of the news media let their own political preferences influence the way they report the news?” 57 percent said “often,” and another 32 percent said “sometimes.” Just 8 percent said “seldom,” and only one percent thought reporters’ preferences “never” influenced their coverage.

  • Nearly half of the public (47%) thought reporters wanted to see Democratic candidate Al Gore win the 2000 election; just 23 percent thought reporters were hoping for a victory by Republican George W. Bush.

The Gallup Organization

Since 2001, Gallup has polled American adults on the question: Now thinking for a moment about the news media: In general, do you think the news media is [sic] too liberal, just about right, or too conservative. For five consecutive years, the number of Americans saying the media are too liberal has outnumbered those seeing a pro-conservative bias by a three-to-one margin. Gallup also found that while a large majority of Democrats said they had trust and confidence in the media, a similarly large percentage of Republicans expressed little or no trust in the media.


  • In September 2005, nearly three times as many Americans said that the media are too liberal (46%) than said the media are too conservative (16%).
  • Since 2001, the percentage saying the media are too liberal has ranged from 45 percent to 48 percent; the percentage seeing the media as too conservative has never exceeded 16 percent.

  • In 2005, only 3 in 10 Republicans (31%) told Gallup they had a great deal or fair amount of trust and confidence in the media, while the vast majority of Republicans (69%) said they had very little or no trust in the media. Democrats were much more trusting, with 70% expressing a great deal or fair amount confidence in the media and 30% reporting very little or no confidence.

The People & The Press, 2003

In the summer of 2003, Princeton Survey Research Associates conducted a poll of 1,201 American adults regarding the media for the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press. They found that a majority (53%) of Americans regard the press as “politically biased,” and most said the media tilted to the left.


  • “Most Americans (53%) believe that news organizations are politically biased, while just 29 percent say they are careful to remove bias from their reports,” Pew reported.
  • “When it comes to describing the press, twice as many say news organizations are “liberal” (51%) than “conservative” (26%) while 14 percent say neither phrase applies.”
  • Even Democrats thought the press tilted left, not right. Among Democratic respondents, 41 percent thought the media are liberal, compared to 33 percent who found the media to be conservative. Among Republicans, 65 percent said the press is liberal, 22 percent find the media to be conservative.
  • “Americans are divided over whether press criticism of the military serves to keep the nation militarily prepared (45%) or to weaken the country’s defenses (43%),” Pew found.  Republicans were especially likely (63%) to say that media criticism was harmful to national defense.

Bias in the 2004 Presidential Campaign

Four different polls conducted in the last days and immediate aftermath of the 2004 presidential campaign found the public more inclined to see the media as biased in favor of Democratic candidate John Kerry than Republican George W. Bush. Polls by the Pew Research Center and Gallup in the final weeks of the campaign found twice as many thought the media had been biased in favor of Kerry than saw a pro-Bush tilt. An Election Day survey of voters in 12 battleground states also found one out of every three voters (32%) thought news coverage was biased in favor of Kerry and the Democrats, compared to just 14 percent who thought the media were slanted in favor of Bush and the Republicans. And a Pew Research Center poll conducted after the election found that 40 percent of voters believed that media coverage of President Bush had been unfair, compared to 31 percent who thought Senator Kerry’s coverage was unfair.


  • A Gallup poll of 1,538 registered voters conducted October 22-24, 2004 found a plurality (45%) thought the media coverage has not been biased toward either candidate. But of the remainder, most (35%) said the coverage had been biased in Kerry’s favor, while fewer than half that number (16%) thought coverage had been biased in favor of Bush.
  • The Pew Research Center surveyed 1,307 registered voters between October 15-19, 2004. “Half of voters (50%) say most newspaper and TV reporters would prefer to see John Kerry win the election, compared with just 22% who think that most journalists are pulling for George Bush,” Pew reported.
  • That pre-election poll also found that a large majority of voters thought the news media had too much clout: “Nearly six-in-ten (62%) say news organizations have too much influence in determining the election’s outcome; only about half that number (32%) feel that the media's influence is appropriate.”
  • A poll of 1,000 voters conducted on Election Day by Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates of voters in 12 closely-fought “battleground” states found that more voters felt the news media’s campaign coverage had been biased (46%) than thought the media coverage had not been skewed (42%). Of those who saw bias, more than twice as many (32%) said the news media had favored John Kerry as felt the media had favored George W. Bush (14%).
  • A post-election survey of 1,209 voters conducted by the Pew Research Center (November 5-8, 2004) reported that “voters are increasingly troubled by what they see as the media’s unfair treatment of the candidates. While a majority (56%) view press coverage of Bush's campaign as fair, four-in-ten [40%] think it was unfair, up from 30 percent four years ago.”
  • The Pew report continued: “Significantly more voters (65%) believe the press was fair in its coverage of the Kerry campaign. However, a growing minority also views this coverage as unfair — 31 percent say that now, compared with 24 percent who faulted press coverage of Al Gore's campaign four years ago.”

Missouri School of Journalism, 2004

The Missouri School of Journalism’s Center for Advanced Social Research surveyed 495 adults about their attitudes toward the press during June and July of 2004. Their results, released in April 2005, showed that most Americans (85%) thought that news reporting was biased, although a smaller majority (62%) still said they considered journalism credible. Of those who thought the media were biased, most said the bias favored liberals.


  • Nearly six out of seven adults (85%) said there was a bias in news reporting. “Of those, 48 percent identified it as liberal, 30 percent as conservative, 12 percent as both, and 3 percent as other bias,” an April 27, 2005 Associated Press report summarized.

  • According to the AP summary, “74 percent said reporters tend to favor one side over the other when covering political and social issues.”
  • “58 percent said journalists have too much influence over what happens in the world.”
  • “77 percent said they think a news story is sometimes killed or buried if it is embarrassing or damaging to the financial interests of a news organization.”

American Journalism Review, 2005

In May 2005, Gannett's First Amendment Center in Nashville polled Americans about their attitudes towards the media. Some exclusive results were published in the August/September 2005 edition of the American Journalism Review. The article by senior writer Rachel Smolkin revealed that nearly two-thirds (64%) reject the notion that “the news media try to report the news without bias,” and nearly the same number (65%) agreed that “the falsifying or making up of stories in the American news media is a widespread problem.”


  • When read the statement, “Overall, the news media tries to report the news without bias,” 64 percent disagreed (42% saying they disagreed strongly, 22 percent saying they mildly disagreed.) Only 13 percent strongly agreed that the media attempt to keep bias out of the news.
  • When told “The falsifying or making up of stories in the American news media is a widespread problem,” 40 percent strongly agreed and an additional 25 percent mildly agreed. Just 11 percent strongly disagreed.

CBS’s "State of the Media," 2006

In late January 2006, a CBS News/New York Times poll asked 1,229 adults about their attitudes toward the news media as part of a "State of the Media" segment on the CBS Evening News. The poll found the public’s view of the media divided by partisanship, with self-identified Democrats most confident of the media’s ability to report news "fully, accurately and fairly" and "tell the truth" all or most of the time, and Republicans expressing much more skepticism.


  • The poll discovered "large majorities of Democrats and liberals (about seven in 10 of each) think the news media tell the truth all or most of the time. About half of Republicans and conservatives agree."
  • Four out of every ten respondents (including 47% of self-identified Republicans) said they thought the news media tell the truth "only some of the time or hardly ever."
  • Just over a third of adults (36%) said they had "not very much" confidence or "none at all" in the news media’s ability to report the news "fully, accurately and fairly." Nearly half of Republicans (48%) expressed little confidence in the news media, while three-fourths of Democrats (75%) said they had "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of confidence in the media.
  • More than a third of respondents (35%) said the media have been "harder on George W. Bush" compared to other presidents, compared to just 18 percent who said the media have been "easier on George W. Bush."
  • Three out of five Republicans (61%) said they thought the news media had been harder on Bush than previous presidents. A third of independents (36%) and one out of ten Democrats (11%) agreed.
  • Virtually no Republicans thought media coverage of Bush has been easier than past presidents, but 16 percent of independents and 34 percent of Democrats said coverage of Bush has been softer.

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