Friday, July 4, 2008

Voters Give Media Failing Grades in Objectivity for Election 2008

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Just 17% of voters nationwide believe that most reporters try to offer unbiased coverage of election campaigns. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that four times as many—68%--believe most reporters try to help the candidate that they want to win.

The perception that reporters are advocates rather than observers is held by 82% of Republicans, 56% of Democrats, and 69% of voters not affiliated with either major party. The skepticism about reporters cuts across income, racial, gender, and age barriers.

Ideologically, political liberals give the least pessimistic assessment of reporters, but even 50% of those on the political left see bias. Thirty-three percent (33%) of liberals believe most reporters try to be objective. Moderates, by a 65% to 17% margin, see reporters as advocates, not scribes. Among political conservatives, only 7% see reporters as objective while 83% believe they are biased.

Given these results, it’s not surprising that 76% of voters believe the media has too much power and influence over elections. Just 3% believe the Fourth Estate has too little influence while 16% say the balance is about right.

Eighty-seven percent (87%) of Republicans believe the media has too much influence along with 80% of unaffiliated voters and 65% of Democrats.

Voters have little doubt as to who is benefitting from the media coverage this year—Barack Obama. Fifty-four percent (54%) say Obama has gotten the best coverage so far. Twenty-two percent (22%) say McCain has received the most favorable coverage while 14% say that Hillary got the best treatment.

At the other extreme, 43% say Clinton received the worst treatment from the media. Twenty-seven percent (27%) say the media was roughest on McCain and only 15% thought the media coverage was most unfair to Obama.

Looking ahead to the fall campaign, 44% believe most reporters will try to help Obama while only 13% believe that most will try to help McCain. Twenty-four percent (24%) are optimistic enough to believe that most reporters will try to offer unbiased coverage.

Even Democrats tend to believe their candidate will receive better treatment—27% of those in Obama’s party believe most reporters will try to help him win while only 16% believe they will help McCain. A plurality of Democrats—34%--believe most reporters will be unbiased.

Among unaffiliated voters, 44% believe reporters will try to help Obama and 14% believe they will try to help McCain. Seventy percent (70%) of Republicans expect Obama to receive preferential treatment while only 8% believe reporters will try to help McCain.

African-Americans are fairly evenly divided as to who reporters will try to help this fall. Sixty percent (60%) of African-Americans say either that the coverage will be unbiased or they are not sure.

Those who plan to vote for Obama are evenly divided as well. McCain voters—by a 75% to 5% margin—say that most reporters will try to help Obama win this November. Among those who are undecided or planning to vote for a third party candidate, 47% expect Obama to be the media favorite while just 6% say that McCain will be the preferred candidate.

A survey conducted earlier this year found that 30% of voters believe having a friendly reporter is more valuable than raising a lot of campaign contributions. Twenty-nine percent (29%) believe contributions are more important and 40% are not sure.

These results are consistent with earlier surveys finding that large segments of the population believe the media is biased It is also clear that voters select their news sources in a partisan manner. During Election 2004, CNN viewers heavily favored John Kerry while Fox Fans preferred George W. Bush.

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